Friday 4 October 2013

The Only Way Is Downton @ St James Theatre

The Only Way Is Essex and Downton Abbey are at opposite ends of the television spectrum, but they represent a clash of cultures that come together in impressionist Luke Kempner’s one man show The Only Way Is Downton.  His performance offered a veritable smorgasbord of spoofs and jokes that kept both the audience and himself on their toes.

The show got off to a slow start, though this was as much due to my lack of Downton knowledge as to the performance itself – impressions only work when the audience is familiar with the original.  And it was often the impressions alone that were funny, rather than the script, although his turn as Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess contained plenty of suitably bitchy comments.  The Downton sections provided the framework of the show: as the characters fear they will lose the estate, they are forced to find other ways of making money.  Cue Downton being spliced into other television programmes from X Factor to The Great British Bake Off, Wimbledon and Pointless – the result being a very British brand of humour.

Each impression was characterised with distinct voices and movement, Kempner changing from one to the next with relative ease.  Once he hit his stride, his performance was hilarious, full of self-referencing and topical jokes that included (amongst other things) the economy, the royal wedding and 50 Shades Of Grey.  Although some impressions were more successful than others, all were instantly recognisable - in particular, X Factor’s Rylan desperate for fame, an overly enthusiastic Nicole Scherzinger, a camp Tom Daley and an apathetic Andy Murray.  Best of all was his turn as Alan Carr, which had his voice and mannerisms down to a tee. 

There were some cheap gags fired at obvious targets, but when the impressions were so amusing it’s easy to forgive any dips in the script.  Having impressed at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Only Way Is Downton will soon be moving to the West End – make sure to check it out.


Watch: The Only Way Is Downton will soon be transferring to the West End.