The Only Way is Downton

Luke Kempner
James Seabright
Trafalgar Studios

Luke Kempner in The Only Way is Downton

If the Downton Abby theme-tune alone causes you to slide into a grossly lethargic, Christmas-afternoon, zombie state and, like me, you mostly lost interest after they killed off the hot one in series three, then you may not feel that The Only Way Is Downton is for you. But, as I had the fortune of discovering, you'd be very, very wrong...

Following a sell-out Edinburgh Festival première, impressionist Luke Kempner (YouTube sensation and star of hit musicals Avenue Q and Les Miserables) has brought his talent by the truckload to the Trafalgar Studios for London audiences to experience. And you have to see it to believe it.

With a polish by Jeremy Limb and direction from Owen Lewis, Kempner's one-man masterpiece is in fine standing prior to its tour of the UK. Using the ever-popular but increasingly criticised Downton Abbey as a framing device, Kempner's ninety minutes of hysterical impressions have structure, story and suspence. 

The perfect parody observes and plays on the things that we equally love and despise about Downton. Much like in a season finale (except far more engaging), the country estate is at crisis point. In an attempt to rectify the situation, the upstairs and downstairs characters resort to popular culture and reality television. (Well, don't we all?) They watch X-Factor. They enter The Great British Bake Off. They try everything, from Strictly Come Dancing to Wimbledon... and even Musical Theatre. Will a hasty celebrity wedding put an end to all their troubles, or is it too late, even for the illustrious Downton?

If the show’s playful narrative doesn't entertain you, then Kempner's elastic face and voice will. The young actor's impressions are jaw-droppingly accurate with transitions between characters so clean and rapid that it is quite possible to lose sight of the fact that there is only one person on the stage. Close your eyes and you could be at home, curled-up watching Saturday night television.

And how often is it, truly, that one performer, comedian, singer, writer is able to achieve a feat such as this: summoning so many well-known personalities without as much as a breath between changes?

This isn't the sort of thing that you have the opportunity to see every day. With references for everyone and enough varied material to have even me gasping for Oxygen, The Only Way Is Downton is a fun, enthralling evening of entertainment not to be missed. And as for Luke Kempner…his talent speaks for itself.

Reviewer: Emily Hardy