History is littered with sitcoms transferring unsuccessfully to the stage or film. One of the big problems is that the joke ratio plummets when something that works in a 25-minute format is stretched to, in this case, just under two hours.

The impressive turnout for Drop The Dead Donkey live indicated that a lot of goodwill remains for this Channel 4 comedy from the 1990s. But The Reawakening just isn’t funny enough, often enough. At times, it’s even a bit corny, an accusation unlikely to be levelled at the original series. Given the impressive back catalogue of writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, and the experienced performers on stage, this is particularly disappointing. 

The old Globelink News gang has been mysteriously reassembled to front Truth News, a channel obsessed with algorithms and social media hits rather than anything remotely related to actual news. They’re telling the viewer what they think we want to know rather than informing the public about international factual items. As this is an all too familiar scenario in 2024, perhaps it bothered me too much to engage with much of the humour on show? It’s hard to see the funny side about the current state of the media.

Drop the Dead Donkey. Image courtesy of The Lowry.

While a grand speech towards the end about fake news rallied the audience, more of this would have been welcome. Instead, we were served up fairly predictable gags about Sunak, Starmer and the Royals, but none of the remarks offered anything we haven’t heard before. A one-liner about Rochdale Labour Party from the news earlier in the day got a great response, and other equally up-to-date gags would have helped to make a bigger impact.

During the 90s, Drop the Dead Donkey was an up-to-the-minute comedy about an outrageous, rogue news channel. In 2024, these channels actually exist. And there’s the rub. Nothing the DTDD team can parody could come close to the hideousness of today’s TV. The donkey’s bite has diminished and seems a bit tame.

On the plus side, it was good to welcome the cast back to their roles and they gave it as much as the script allowed. No one does jittery and accident-prone like Jeff Rawle as hapless editor George, and Robert Duncan’s station manager Gus can still deliver oceans of gibberish dialogue with aplomb. Perhaps most affecting was Stephen Tompkinson’s off-the-rails reporter Damien, as ruthlessly keen as ever not to let the actual story get in the way of a memorable outside broadcast.

It seems odd for the show to return now after 26 years away from the screen. There’s certainly an irony that a once ‘up to the minute’ TV comedy feels past its sell-by date. Perhaps that was the point being made? The rather muted audience response throughout indicated that many left feeling that the show belonged in a rose-tinted past.

To use a suitably glib Truth News headline, it was less ‘drop’, more Flogging the Dead Donkey.

By Drew Tosh

Main image courtesy of The Lowry

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Drop The Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! is at The Lowry, Salford until February 17, 2024. For more information, click here.