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Luke Kempner’s one-man show, a spoof of Downton Abbey, has arrived in Canada.

Steve Ullathorne

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Upside Downton
Written by
Luke Kempner
Directed by
Owen Lewis
Actors
Luke Kempner
Company
Mirvish Productions
Venue
Panasonic Theatre
City
Toronto
Runs Until
Sunday, October 18, 2015

Here's a solo show that has almost as many names as it has voices.

British impressionist Luke Kempner first presented his one-man Downton Abbey spoof under the title The Only Way is Downton in the U.K., then toured it through the United States as America's Got Downton.

Now, Kempner's show has arrived in Canada as Upside Downton – presented at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto under the aegis of Mirvish Productions.

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All that changing of names and slipping across international borders may make you suspect that Kempner is trying to elude the copyright police.

But the insert in the program advertising an upcoming limited-edition gift set of Downton Abbey DVDs suggests otherwise. I wouldn't be surprised if Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes was getting a cut.

Indeed, Upside Downton is a loving parody of Downton Abbey, the PBS/ITV period soap that airs on VisionTV in this country.

Kempner – an actor in the impish mold of British thesp, a poor man's David Tennant or Ben Whishaw – does all the voices of most of the show's main characters from Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, all the way down to Daisy, the scullery maid.

From the RP of the upper-class characters to the Yorkshire accents of the lower class, he pretty much nails them all – giving each character a physical mannerism, so you can easily tell who is speaking when he switches from one to another in an instant.

However, Kempner's impression of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith on the show, is only the second-funniest impression of a Maggie Smith performance to be seen at the Panasonic Theatre this year. The funniest was Fiona Reid's impression of Maggie Smith in California Suite in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike back in March.

What are all of Kempner's Downton Abbey impressions put in the service of for an hour and a bit? The plot is a typical situation from the series, slightly skewed: The Lord of Grantham has squandered away the family fortune on Radio Shack shares – and must find a way to regain it before the Dowager Countess's impending marriage to an unnamed (until the end) British celebrity.

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This requires Downton characters to head into less familiar televisual situations (as the British and American titles made more clear). Mrs. Patmore and Daisy go on Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay; Mr. Bates heads off to a tennis tournament to challenge Andy Murray; and Thomas goes on Jeopardy! (The latter is the weakest bit; we're robbed of a proper Alex Trebek impression and Kempner doesn't really seem to get the rules of the game show.)

On the whole, Upside Downton is little more than a series of cross-over sketches like those you'd find on the U.K. television benefit Red Nose Day (performed in front of a backdrop of a staircase and somewhat dwarfed by the size of the Panasonic Theatre). That's fine, of course, but Kempner seems to be under the impression that his material is a little bit more clever than it actually is.

The actor has a habit – occasionally endearing, but mostly annoying – of breaking character and looking out at the audience after his naughtiest punchlines as if he's just stolen a cookie from the cookie jar. On opening night, he occasionally prodded the audience when they missed a joke (or simply declined to laugh), and, in one case, congratulated us for being quicker to laugh at a line than the audience in Buffalo. (Though perhaps that's a backhanded compliment, given that the gag in question was a reference to Susan Boyle?)

Upside Downton comes to Toronto via Seabright Productions Limited, which has been exporting various comedy and cabaret acts mostly from the Edinburgh Fringe to Toronto for the past few years. There was Potted Potter, a two-man parody of all seven Harry Potter books; Julie Madly Deeply, a tribute to Julie Andrews; and The Boy With Tape on His Face, a mime act that does what is says on the label.

I can't say I enjoyed Upside Downton much more than many of the one-man shows I've seen over the years at the Toronto Fringe by such local comic genius as Chris Gibbs – or, for that matter, many of the sketch and improv shows that go on nightly at the Comedy Bar. This is no slight on Kempner, but I left wishing there were more Canadian commercial producers like James Seabright willing to put money and promotional muscle behind our comedians of this type.

Upside Downton continues to Oct. 18 (www.mirvish.com).

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