When people say that period dramas aren’t their thing, I just don’t believe them. How could you not swoon when eyes meet across the dancehall, or chuckle when yet another fragile lady-of-the-house develops pneumonia from a walk in the rain? Consequently, I had high hopes for the improvisational comedy, Upstairs Downton.
Unfortunately, it was the very parameters of this premise that posed the greatest problem. It did not take long for me to realise that the space for creativity was very finite indeed. They began by asking the audience to name the leading character; we delivered a very appropriate ‘Charlotte Willoughby’. Instantly it was agreed that this was an upstairs name. From here, the possibilities were (not at all) endless; Charlotte’s main character-motivation, we decided, was her overwhelming desire for a child. Well, sir, would we expect anything else? The cast did, quite clearly. In fact, this was the only section of the show that was apparently plucked out of thin air, and even that was utterly predictable. Accordingly, some of the jokes seemed well-rehearsed, and rather than create amusing caricatures, the cast slipped into hackneyed stereotypes that had me crying out for a spanner in the works; a naughty stable-boy perhaps?
It could have been possible, however, for an animated and engaging cast to rescue the dragging design, but unfortunately, they just weren’t. I must say, though, that the two women on stage were the absolute saving grace of the show, who delivered their lines with wit and confidence. However, a couple of the comedians not only failed to get laughs from the audience, but actually interrupted others’ jokes. The cast were in fact so out of sync that they even got confused about which scene they were in. Improv 101: listen to your fellow cast-members!
However, all of this would have been alright, if a little dull, but in response to dwindling audience numbers, one cast member decided to amp it up by bizarrely throwing in a bond-style villain half-way through. Indeed, I struggle to recall coming across a Lord Evil in Larkrise to Candleford, or a pied-piper inspired ‘baby-room’ in Pride and Prejudice. While I took issue with the limited scope for improvisation, this sudden determination to jump ship entirely was missing the subtle humour that courses through the veins of the British period drama. Fetch the doctor, this show needs an examination!