The Only Way Is Downton

Our critics rating: 
Wednesday, 29 January, 2014
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

I came (very) late to the cultural phenomenon that is Downton Abbey, only catching up with the first three series of the show on an uncharacteristically grey and often wet week in Florida earlier this month. But I devoured every single episode, and then hastily and greedily caught up with the latest series when I get home.

And thank goodness I did, for otherwise I'd have been all at sea during The Only Way is Downton, a sometimes amusing, occasionally bemusing, one-man tribute to the show, oddly blended in with recreations of other TV phenomena like The X Factor and The Great British Bake Off. Those anachronistic juxtapositions jostle with other celebrity references that see a plot revolving around the Dowager Countess of Grantham getting herself married off to a much younger suitor – the 19-year-old Olympic diver Tom Daley.

Quite how funny you find this idea, or an extended sequence in which a lifeline is thrown to rescue Downton Abbey by turning it into the subject of a musical in the manner of Monty Python's Spamalot, depends on how starved for popular entertainment you are. For myself, a little of this kind of thing can go a long way.

But if it often feels desperately over-extended into a full length show, with two halves that each run 45 minutes, there's no doubting the undoubted charm or accomplishments in vocal mimicry of its star Luke Kempner. He effortlessly summonses all of Downton's major characters with mere vocal inflections, proving how minutely he has studied and absorbed each of them. I only wish he'd provided himself with a funnier, more rigorous script, but director Owen Lewis steers him through what there is with firm self-belief.

First seen on the Edinburgh Fringe last year where it was a ready-made hit, there are enough Downton fans to turn it into a hit in London and beyond on a series of one night tour dates.


"This piece, directed by Owen Lewis, was a big hit in Edinburgh last year, where it came in at a trim hour. Extended, and given an interval, for a West End run it starts to look laboured."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard

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