All Photos: Manuel Harlan

Much like the witches in Macbeth, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin seem to have had the art of seeing into the future. Drop The Dead Donkey back in the early 1990s was up there as one of the better satirical situation comedies on TV along with Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister and The New Statesman. And all of them, whilst lampooning politics and politicians, had a wary eye on the news media in its many forms. But none actually predicted the age of fake news that we now find ourselves in as sharply as Drop The Dead Donkey.

And now some 30 years or so on there is something chilling about this newly penned and current sequel. Of course it is as funny as ever, Hamilton and Jenkin weave into the plot some finely honed topical jibes which I believe are changed from week to week as the show tours, but it is the darkness of the reality which we are presented with that hits home. An age of algorithms, artificial intelligence and manipulation rings all too true and there is nothing “Fake”about that.

Of course the real coup with this production is getting most of the original cast back together with sadly only two of the original members missing. David Swift who played the ghastly Henry Davenport passed away in 2016 and Haydn Gwynne who played Alex Pates died only last year and way too soon. But the rest are there, older but perhaps no wiser.

Jeff Rawle is the delightfully bumbling new editor George, as ineffectual as ever but now, and once again, happily in love with his new North Korean girlfriend. When confronted with the line “It’s like looking into the yes of a hungry labrador” his face collapses into a pathetic and tilted open smile.

George’s entrance sets the tone for what is to come as he grapples with an anarchic voice activated coffee machine. He is soon joined by Dave played by Neil Pearson, the troubled addictive soul who lurches from disaster to disaster but now claims to be totally reformed.

One by one they reappear, Helen played by Ingrid Lacey lured back to avoid living in her car by a huge salary is the epitome of a life of disappointments and bad boy Damien played by Stephen Tompkinson now wheelchair bound and complete with Dimble is no longer the ambitious young man but and an angry old one. They halve been gathered once again by the idiotic Gus, played so well by Robert Duncan, to create a new news channel called TRUTH. Nothing could be further from it!

And of course we have the leather clad Joy, played by Susannah Doyle who, in her now elevated role as head of Human Resources, is set of reeking revenge on her former colleagues.

Finally we have the iconic figure of delusional news anchor and arch bitch Sally Smedley so deliciously played by Victoria Wickes. All of them have of course moved on in time, but none of them appear to have changed and in returning to those roles they have lost none of their charm or their vices. And to the company we have now Rita, a slice of tokenism in their woke work, played delightfully by Kerena Jagpal and the arrogant award brandishing Mairead, a malicious mole played by Julia Hills.

Many classic sit-coms have been taken to the stage in an attempt emulate their TV success and charm, and many have failed. What we have here is so much better, the characters have moved on and the plot embraces the world as it now is. And of course having that brilliant cast in almost its entirety certainly helps. The company is great, the plot works and the gags are good, some very good. It looks good too, a marvellous set and costumes from Peter McKIntosh, Sally’s faux Chanel is marvellous, and director Derek Bond drives it forward at a pace that is occasionally a little slow, but no doubt wanting the audience to not miss one single gag. And we laughed, many of us, perhaps all of us reliving the fun the original six series brought us back then, and at moments recoiling in horror at how those predictions have become realities.

Andrew Kay

5 March

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★☆

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