Tucked away from Tottenham Court Road, in a room above a pub, some comedy sketches headed for Edinburgh Fringe invite the audience to pay-what-you-can as they try to make us laugh. I wouldn’t say I laughed out loud as such, but there’s definitely a chuckle or two.
Preceding the main event were comic trio Rory and Tim (a confusingly named three-man sketch group) whose sketches more often than not waver around the chortle mark of the laugh-o-meter than the belly-laugh section. When their sketches are good, they are really good (my favourites being one about fruit pastilles trapped in a vending machine, and the dissection of a relationship whilst at university) but not every sketch hits the same high notes.
The main event of the evening are comedy group Upstairs Downton, who promise us an improvised spoof of Julian Fellowes’s hit period drama. Opening with an arrangement of the Downton Abbey theme tune played on kazoos and plastic organs, we are then greeted by Lord Sir Julian Chappes (Simon Lukacs), who introduces himself and asks the audience for three main plot twists: a character’s name, something that he wants more than anything in the world, and whether he belongs ‘upstairs’ or ‘downstairs’ with the servants.
In this instance we ended up with Wilberforth William, the heir to whichever stately home we are set in, who wants a child of his own. Between various sketches, which are determined in length by the other cast members, somehow we find ourselves with a doctor (Christopher Shevlin) practising a new drug to get rid of new disease ‘Erisephylitis’, and Wilberforth’s brother (Jonah Fazel) determined to steal his betrothed, Gwendolyn, away (Avril Poole).
Of course, this is improvised comedy, so it doesn’t have to make complete sense, but the cast do a fair job at trying to keep it all running smoothly, but several great chances for plot twists were ignored. Sometimes there are some real sparks of genius when the actors feel like playing with each other (servants being made to do press-ups for disobeying their masters orders for example) and at other times, you feel slightly exasperated that this particular scene hasn’t ended yet.
I suppose that is the beauty of improvisation though; you never quite know what the other actors are about to come up with. Sometimes it’s a spark of genius, although sometimes things run so dry, you feel that you are back in your GCSE drama class.
It’s got a great potential to be a big hit, especially using the popular ITV show as its base, but apart from the theme tune, it doesn’t really borrow much from the drama at all. I suspect if they threw in a few jokes for the Downton Abbey die-hard fans or the Upstairs, Downstairs addicts, it could be an even better evening of wit, charm and hilarity.
Upstairs Downton was a one-night-only warm up for the Edinburgh Fringe, where the show will be from 1 -15 August 2013. For more information see the Upstairs Downton website.