Upstairs Downton – The Improvised Episode

Upstairs Downton – The Improvised Episode opens with the ordinarily subdued theme tune to ITV's massively popular period drama, Downton Abbey, played on kazoos and a recorder. It's an appropriately irreverent rendition which sets the scene for what's to come: an affectionate parody, and mash up, of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs (the former's less-celebrated, BBC-produced predecessor).

An affectionate parody, and mash up, of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs

The farce's tagline, 'just like telly, only made up' is only partially accurate because, although the small screen versions of Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey contain some moments of levity, more often than not, they lean towards the melodramatic. But The Highly Irregular's stage interpretation attempts to play for laughs.

Each episode is improvised and based on suggestions from the audience. In this instance, what they come up with is Duarte McDonald – who's designated as an upstairs character – in The Episode With The Pet Squirrel. What ensues is a daft and dodgily structured tale of forbidden love between McDonald and Bunty, his bushy-tailed, rodent companion.

The cast of four switch between a range of disappointingly time-worn characters e.g. the dim maid, the idiotic Lord and the acerbic, elderly matriarch. But Simon Lukacs is engaging as the long-suffering butler, with an oatcake-dry sense of humour, who's forced to witness his hapless master's quest for romance.

In amongst all the toing and froing and scenes which don't seem entirely off the cuff, there are couple of smile-raising comments which gently mock, and so draw attention to the fact that each of member of the cast is playing multiple characters. There are also some humorous, and knowing, references to the uneasy coexistence of grey squirrels and their indigenous red brethren.

The quartet make the most of the tiny stage, and do their best with the bizarre episode title that they've been given. But it's hard to get away from the feeling that, despite their spirited performances, there isn't really enough substance to fill a whole hour.

Reviews by Dawn Kofie

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The Blurb

‘Sparkling, satirical wit’ ***** ( ‘Brilliantly farcical and funny’ **** (Reading Post). A rip-roaring improvised episode of everyone’s favourite period drama, created entirely from your suggestions. Expect strange stories of subterfuge, greed and spoilt souffles. Daft plot twists, silly hats and sillier accents. Just like on telly. Only made up. Sell-out show 2013-2014!