Upstairs Downton, Laughing Horse @ Counting House, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Upstairs Downton
Viv Groskop, Christopher Shevlin, Jonah Fazel, Sylvia Bishop, Lucy Fennel, Simon Lukacs, Justin Brett, Maeve Malley-Ryan.
Running time

Improvised comedy or Improv “is a form of theatre where most or all of what is performed is created at the spur of the moment. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story and characters are created by the players without use of an already prepared, written script".

After a sell-out Fringe show in 2013, the Upstairs Downton company is back with their spoof TV show about Aristocratic life above and below stairs - “daft plots, silly hats and sillier accents, just like on the telly. Only made up.”

The eccentric creator of a TV period drama, Sir Julian Chappes explains he has no budget to pay for script writers. So it is the task of the audience to invent the plot and dialogue. On arrival, we are given scraps of paper to write a typical (or not so typical) line for the characters, which will be used to improvise the script.

Thinking of the usual intrigue in the Downton Abbey kitchen, I scribble down “ Who stole the bread from the pantry?” My sister June, imagining the romantic Grantham dinner parties, wrote “Did you see the way he looked at you?!”.

With all the script lines in a hat, one is selected as the theme of the play: guesss what, “Who stole the bread from the pantry?” is read out by Sir Julian.

Immediately the cast of seven, dressed in various Edwardian costumes, take on the roles as the downtrodden servants and cook, and supercilious butlers of Lord Coveney. The truth is, the family is impoverished with no “bread”, no money left in the estate. His father had drowned at sea – not as grand as the Titanic, more obscure, the RMS Obscura in fact.

There’s no bread for toast either, "I just had a pot of marmalade for breakfast” complains Lord C. With a cross-dressing, very deaf Dowager Duchess in a purple hat, tales of dastardly deeds, and the missing bread all develops into a madcap plot.

After a brief musical interlude (two seconds of fine accordion musicianship), the second half of the play proceeds, now enriched with the dialogue written by the audience. As script writers we are all in control of this, shouting Hat! if we wish a character to read one of the lines.

“More Tea, Vicar?” is one such line (as an actor dons a straw hat and spiritual manner), while “Zip it, Shrimpie!” and “Did you see the way he looked at you?” brilliantly fit into the ever more crazy narrative which now features a dead parrot and a devious, dangerous under-butler.

The art of Improvisation requires an ensemble of fast paced, professional, polished performances. The cast, all highly experienced actors, comedians and writers, pull it off with sparkling, satirical wit - 50 minutes of hilarious, farcical fun.

Whether you love or loathe Downton Abbey, this is a fresh and original style of comedy show for everyone, from age 9 to 99.

Show times:
Laughing Horse at The Counting House, Venue 170
1 – 25th August @ 2.30pm.
Free non-ticketed so get there early. (Donations in the hat most welcome and deserved)