Chichester - Drop the Dead Donkey is back, reimagined for now

It’s 34 years since it started, 26 years since it finished – and now it's on stage in a big reunion tour, completely updated for right now.
Drop The Dead Donkey - pic by Manuel HarlanDrop The Dead Donkey - pic by Manuel Harlan
Drop The Dead Donkey - pic by Manuel Harlan

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin is at Chichester Festival Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday, February 20-24.

Original cast members Susannah Doyle, Robert Duncan, Ingrid Lacey, Neil Pearson, Jeff Rawle, Stephen Tompkinson and Victoria Wicks return as the iconic BAFTA and EMMY award-winning comedy is reimagined in a brand-new topical commentary on the cut-throat world of 24-hour news.

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Stephen is delighted to be back: “Everyone in the cast in the show will tell you that it is the show where people stop you the most and say they wonder what the characters are up to now and just how they wish it was still on air so they could get their take on what is happening today.

“It is 34 years since we started and we've stayed in touch with each other. We've always met up at least once a year and when we had our first read-through for the play it was really quite emotional to see just how quickly we all slip back into characters. I think what made it was the fact that the dialogue was so snappy and topical and current and they have adapted that into a very enjoyable stage show. We have had a lot of people come along who've never seen an episode before and really enjoyed it. It's set now. It really is a contemporary update, When we started there were no mobile phones and there was certainly no idea of 24-hour rolling news programmes so it's interesting to see the things that have happened in the gap in between.

“And what made it successful back then was the fact that it was live actors. It was not like you were watching Spitting Image! We would have a read-through on a Friday and then plan it all on the Saturday and on the Monday the topical stuff would come in and that was embedded and on the Wednesday we went into the studio and did it in front of a live audience. It was then edited on the Thursday and it went out that night, and I think that topicality was a huge part of its success. When we first started Michael Grade was one of those commissioning people at the time that had a background of admiring writers and I think they took much bigger risks back then.

“And I think it became successful pretty much immediately. Michael Grade gave us a dummy run that was not going to be broadcast just so that we could get familiar with it but that just happened to be a week when there was really not much happening. The most interesting thing was something about crop circles and we were just hoping that something more would happen when we did it for real the next week. And then of course the next week that's when it all kicked off with Saddam and we were inundated!”

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It feels incredibly rare to be able to come back to it now: “But they have found a really nice way of making a stage show out of it. It is strung together beautifully. There is immediate nostalgia when people recognise the characters but then the development of the plot takes over and it's this stage show that then takes over which is great.”