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REVIEW: Drop The Dead Donkey at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Drop The Dead Donkey

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 25 May 2024

It ran for 6 seasons on our television's from 1990-98 bringing current news and satire into a sit com format and it is been transformed into a hilarious stage show in Newcastle this week. Drop The Dead Donkey features members of the original show including the North East's own Stephen Tompkinson  alongside Neil Pearson, Susannah Doyle, Robert Duncan, Ingrid Lacey, Jeff Rawle, and Victoria Wicks. 

The show was known for inserting the latest news stories into the script, even if that involved a quick rewrite on the day of the broadcast. Indeed opening night made reference to the blood scandal, as well as other recent stories.

So what is Drop The Dead Donkey about? The original tale was of life in a television news programme that was trying to keep on top of today's stories. The stage show is written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who are both the creators and writers of the original show and they've have brought it up to date for an era in which we have a choice of 24 hour rolling news. The premise is that some unknown backers, who wish to remain nameless want to set up "Truth TV".

They have asked original CEO Gus (Robert Duncan) to bring back the old team from the 90s. Many of them have old scores to settle and the hierarchy has changed. The trouble is that much what was acceptable in the 90s is no longer so - and this is pointed out to them as they arrive. 

This is a very funny show that gets some of its laughs from pointing out the differences between now and then. In an era of "snowflakes" and gender neutral toilets, it is  unlikely that programmes like The Word would be made today.

The writers are also clearly gunning for the new news start-ups like GB News, complete with their algorithms, toxic social media and unreliable equipment at their launch. In this show they also chuck in Sonia, a voice activated coffee machine that gives the elderly editor George (Jeff Rawle) endless hassle.

Director Lindsay Posner has succeeded in converting the television format into a stage show. This is not as simple as it may seem as what increases pace on the small screen can be problematic on stage. The result worked for many of the generation X in the audience who probably remember the original format. At times it felt like a radio show with a live audience as warm applause greeted each established character on stage. 

Would the show work with younger adults as it pokes fun into what generation X has become in the past 30 years? Possibly... but possibly not. But this is unlikely to be an issue as the bulk of the audience fitted into the age group of those who saw the original show. In 2023 such satire tends to be delivered in panel shows, but I digress.

I found the show very funny. Everyone from politics is a target for some of the humour, the rest is reserved mainly for a certain royal brother of the King. The writers have brought the original format up to date with the concept of rolling news, AI and foreign owners. There are also some nice local touches, in this respect, which are subtly brought in. As someone said in the interval - it'd be great if there was a sequel next week just like the original series - proof that good quality sit-coms are not dead yet.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photo: Manuel Harlan


Drop The Dead Donkey plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 May 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

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