A Night at the Byre: The Only Way is Downton

Marion Ponthus
1 March 2015

The Only Way is Downton or how Downton Abbey meets some of the most popular shows on British television. What could have been a massive car crash turns out to be a very good surprise indeed. This one-man show is truly entertaining and I would even go as far as saying that there is more to it than meets the eye.

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Image credit: https://therealchrisparkle.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/img_4876.jpg

Obviously, there is Luke Kempner’s incredible performance who impersonates a total of 32 characters and most importantly manages to grab the audience’s attention and retain it from the beginning to the end. Indeed, the true magic of the show lies in Luke Kempner’s good understanding of Downton Abbey’s characters and dynamics. Not only has he captured the characters’ voices but each line seems to have been pulled out from the show itself. Maggie Smith’s fans have nothing to worry about: the Dowager Countess of Grantham does not lose her punch in this show!

However it must be acknowledged, and after all Luke Kempner is only human, that not all his impressions are equally impressive. Don’t misunderstand me: there are some characters that you can immediately recognize (Carson or Mrs Hughes from the top of my head) and others for which you need a couple of seconds to find out who they are. That is if you are closing your eyes during the entire show. If you are not, you will be able to figure it out straight away. How? This is a one-man show we are talking about, not a Katy Perry concert and Kempner cannot leave the stage to change costumes and move on from Daisy to Lord Grantham as if nothing had happened. Like all good impersonators, he has identified and associated a facial expression and a gesture with each character, which makes it very easy for the audience to follow him in this crazy adventure. He truly becomes the character he is impersonating. I am sure Dowton Abbey fans will have no problem recognising this particular character:

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Image credit: https://www.list.co.uk/event/381883-the-only-way-is-downton/

The obvious question with this kind of show is: what if you have never seen Downton Abbey or the other British TV programmes that Luke Kempner refers to throughout the show? Will you still be able to enjoy it? After all, watching Mrs Patmore competing in the Great British Bake Off was one of my personal highlights of the evening… I think it is safe to say that you will because the show has a true comic quality to it, mainly derived from its anachronisms. In fact, Downton Abbey has often been criticised for its historical faux pas (the latest one being I believe the water bottle-gate). It is clear right from the start that Luke Kempner’s major concern is giving the audience a good laugh and he cunningly dismisses the issue with the recurring sentence “after all it is only 1912”. Which usually works, even though marrying one of the Downton Abbey characters to Tom Daley was a bit over the top in my opinion.

In that light, it could be argued that The Only Way is Downton is all about entertainment and has no substance. That is if you forget that this show is a parody and by definition serves a nobler purpose. At the beginning of the show, Downton Abbey is on the verge of financial ruin (again!) and the characters are trying to come up with a solution. One of the suggestions involves turning Downton Abbey into a musical because as Luke Kempner brilliantly puts it “anything can be turned into a musical” and people have no problem going to see a show they already know…

It also made me reflect on the type of programmes that are popular in the UK and on the role of popular culture in British society. But maybe that’s just a foreigner’s thought…

 

For a glimpse of the show, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWEsNgEd67A although in my opinion this video does not do justice to the show and to Kempner’s performance

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