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 It felt like I was a sinner cum ignoramus sitting in the audience last night for Drop the Dead Donkey: The Reawakening! (New Victoria Theatre, Woking), a touring production based on the original Channel 4 sitcom of the same name, which ran from 1990 to 1998. No, I hadn’t seen a single episode, which meant I didn’t know any of the characters (7 of the original are in this) or their history. In truth, that made little difference to what turned out to be a stonkingly good show and its timing could not have been better thanks to the “Drowning Street” announcement when our beleaguered, and sodden, prime minister fired the gun for election day.

The original TV show was set in GlobeLink News, a fictional TV news company. Recorded close to transmission enabled award-winning writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin to use recent news events giving it a sense of realism. The most frantic rewrite is said to have happened on the day of filming when media mogul Robert Maxwell drowned, and such was its popularity that the likes of Neil Kinnock and Ken Livingstone made guest appearances. This reimagining focuses on the team trying to launch a new TV news channel, which has its ups and downs. Now far be it from me to cast aspersions but the hilariously garish design by Peter McKintosh has similarities with another news channel launched that not long ago. You can definitely imagine politicians having sycophantic conversations with other politicians on this set.

The cast of nine bounce of each other, the comic timing a joy to behold and they seem to be having a ball up there making full use of Hamilton and Jenkins’ eye for a laugh, sections of which had this audience in stitches. We were also some of the first theatregoers to have seen the show after the election date being set and so the material was quite literally hot off the press. I now understand why this is seen as a comedy classic so get your skates on and head to Woking.

Coming up next at the New Victoria is one of the great rock musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar.

And Athasha Lyonnais sees behind the façade…

It could be tempting to go into Lady Dealer (Bush Theatre) with unfair expectations of what’s in store – the title of the play definitely brought to mind every time a coworker (it’s usually a coworker) triumphantly proclaims “The doctor…is a woman!” and you have to contend with the knowledge that you are sitting across from someone who truly believes that a woman with a medical degree constitutes a rug-pull of the highest order. Fortunately, this play has more tricks up its sleeve than a modern retelling of that old riddle.

Charly (Alexa Davies) is the titular Lady Dealer – she wanders alone on the stage, delivers a half-monologue half-slam poem to the audience, confidently presenting her life as a dealer with a warts-and-all candour, and it does, at least at first, seem like this is going to be a straightforward story about a dealer…who’s a woman – and then the power goes out in her apartment. With no way for her clientele to contact her until the power comes back on, Charly starts to reflect – no customers means she is, at least for the present moment, not a dealer. And if she’s not a dealer, what is there to her?

Martha Watson Allpress’s sharp script is bolstered by Davies’ disconcerting vulnerability, together they paint a portrait of loneliness that has grown unchecked like knotweed, a gut-wrenching depiction of someone who is in freefall and doesn’t know it yet, a woman who aside from her job – ‘Lady Dealer’, doesn’t have much to define herself. An uncomfortable play that had me frantically texting “long time no see, we should catch up” to distant friends on the way home, lest I end up like Charly.

 

Drop the Dead Donkey’ – www.atgtickets.com

Lady Dealer – www.bushtheatre.co.uk

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