REVIEW: The Only Way Is Downton, Trafalgar Studios ✭✭✭✭✭


Luke Kempner
Luke Kempner in The Only Way Is Downton

The Only Way Is Downton
Trafalgar Studios, UK Tour to follow
February 16 2014

it is not often that one can say that a single production on the West End is a better comedy than the billed comedy hits (recently Barking in Essex or currently Fortune’s Fool), contains a better central performance than those in pretty much anything currently playing elsewhere on the West End (leaving aside Lesley Manville, Jack Huston, Jude Law or Tom Hiddleston and, even then, given the quality of the material which underlines and permits those performances, maybe not even them), provides sharper satirical commentary than Duck House, has more musical interest and originality than Stephen Ward, matches Perfect Nonsense (the McFadyen/Mangan version anyway) for sheer brio and tremulous joy and is both laugh-out loud funny, often, and gently fascinating. But you can right now.

For playing at the Trafalgar Studios Downstairs is The Only Way Is Downton, a delicious one-man show written by and starring Luke Kempner. Kempner is the real deal in every way – his timing is impeccable, his sense of comedy immaculate, his ability to impersonate or portray the essence of the work of others inspired and unflinching, his diction and vocal dexterity extraordinarily impressive. Add his matinee idol looks and you have – unquestionably – a star.

The conceit of the piece is clever and simple. Kempner plays many of the main characters from Downton Abbey in a sequence of sketches where Robert has (once again) lost the family fortune and the rest of the ensemble come up with ways to make money in order to save the estate and pay for the Dowager’s upcoming marriage to a teenager. The money making ventures involve interactions with other British Television Icons (X Factor, Great British Bake-Off and others) and give Kempner scope to impersonate non-Downton stars too.

In an inspired sequence in the second Act, Kempner toys with the notion of Downton The Musical. It’s very very funny, and surprisingly tuneful.

Kempner does the most unerring and barbed takes on Mary, Cora, Barrow, Mrs Hughes, Carson, Branson, Mrs Patmore, Miss O’Brien and there is nothing wrong with his Robert, Bates, Alfred or Violet either. But his most triumphant moments come as Daisy. Particularly impressive is the way he seamlessly shifts from one character to another, never causing confusion and without the aid of props or costume.

This is a proper tour de force.

The writing is acute and quite clever. It actually says quite a lot about the present state of a British television and, through that, the current state of Britain. There is such a lot to admire in the insight the writing reveals.

The whole affair is directed with sureness by Owen Lewis and there really is nothing to complain about.

Do not miss this superb piece of theatrical joy.

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