The Only Way is Downton @ Oxford Playhouse

10:48am Thursday 23rd January 2014

By Angie Johnson

Angie Johnson catches Luke Kempner in action during a national tour

Following great success at the Edinburgh Festival with his comedy drama The Only Way is Downton, Luke Kempner made an appearance this week at the Oxford Playhouse as part of a national tour. A devout fan of Downton Abbey and The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE to aficionados) I was uncertain about the prospect of a mash-up of two such dissimilar TV favourites — but I was won over by this young impressionist’s ability and imagination.

The plot weaves together two powerful strands: Downton Abbey is on the verge of financial ruin, and the Dowager announces she is going to marry Olympic diver Tom Daley. The loyal staff rally round to raise funds for the Grantham estate — undertaking to appear on such game shows as Pointless, Great British Bake Off, X-Factor, and Strictly Come Dancing. Bates, the gammy-legged valet, even competes at Wimbledon to win some cash — generating a particularly hilarious skit.

As this is a one-man show Kempner is required to play a huge cast of characters, which he does with aplomb. Bringing to life most of the central cast of Downton Abbey (particular favourites of mine being his Mrs Patmore, Daisy, Thomas the footman and a terrific Lady Mary) he then ranges across a spectrum of popular TV shows. Some of these were more successful than others: his Sue and Mel was spot on, but I thought his Sharon Osbourne a tad sketchy. The most effective characterisations were the ones where Kempner had mastered both the physical motifs and vocal impersonations.

There are further opportunities to see this show in Oxfordshire, at the Mill Banbury on March 12 and at Didcot Cornerstone on March 22, before it heads to London’s West End. Though I think a familiarity with Downton Abbey is needed to get the most out of the show, it’s well worth catching if you like a good laugh. It’s ‘reem’!


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