I am standing in the rain outside the Pleasance Courtyard waiting for one man to wow me in The Only Way is Downton. The queue is long, the rain is heavy, and I am really hoping this show is going to live up to my expectations and its many glowing reviews. Have I mentioned that I really love Downton Abbey?
We enter. The theme music kicks in, the audience chatter falls into silence, and Mrs O’Brien and Thomas Barrow start talking. Except it’s not them. Instead, Luke Kempner is, with spooky accuracy, recreating the voices and mannerisms of Downton’s dodgiest servants – and that’s only the beginning. As the impersonations continue, I begin to wonder if I am getting sucked in by the avid audience, some well-chosen hand gestures and a smart script, so I close my eyes – and find myself opposite a condescending Maggie Smith.
The speed at which Kempner switches between characters – even, at one point, whilst mid-song– is seriously impressive. And his exceptional impressions and witty one-liners have his audience in stitches throughout the hour long performance.
One pitfall with impressions is that they tend to rely on an audience to know the characters and understand specific references. But Kempner’s clever script ensures that it isn’t only fans who are entertained. Those who don’t know Downton Abbey will probably have heard the critiques of the show killing off its most interesting (and attractive) characters, and its repeated plot lines – topics and ironic quips that Kempner puts into the mouths of the lords, ladies and servants. Plus, in the bizarre plot that unravels to (as always) save Downton from ruin, his range of additional characters – from Andy Murray to Boris Becker to Dermot O’Leary – mean that there are jokes and caricatures for everyone to enjoy.
Huge applause greets the end of the show from an exhilarated audience. I still love Downton, but Luke Kempner’s one-man episode is undoubtedly the best one I’ve ever seen.The Only Way is Downton, Pleasance Courtyard, Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-25