There will be no dowager duchesses or sinister gay footmen, and the audience is unlikely to stretch into the millions. But a new play opening at Edinburgh Festival tomorrow will have a figure bearing a striking likeness to Lord Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, lurking in the wings.
Meet Peregrine Fellowes, the peer's 20-year-old son and heir. Tomorrow sees the world premiere of I See Simon, a Pinteresque three-hander he has co-written and directed with his school friend Alexander Thomas, also 20. It is his first public venture in theatre. And, in what promises to be the birth of a new theatrical dynasty, Fellowes has revealed plans for a career in television, just like his father.
Next month sees the return of Downton Abbey, ITV's Sunday night period drama, which was recommissioned after the success of last winter's first series, which chronicled the fortunes of the Crawley family in the build-up to the First World War. Almost 11 million people tuned in for the final episode, and the eagerly anticipated new series picks up the story in 1916, half-way through the war.
But Fellowes Jnr's dramatic creation is on a more modest scale. "I'm not sure it would be very easy to make comparisons to Downton Abbey," he laughs when we meet. "And there are no crinolines or napkins." This is a teasing reference to a number of stories that plagued Downton Abbey, as critics revelled in nitpicking over the accuracy of various historical minutiae. Fellowes' play is about a love triangle, and is set in the present. It has only three parts and is, according to Alexander Thomas, "very stripped down".
The pair have forged a strong creative partnership and are best friends, having met the age of 13 at Winchester College. Both have just completed their first years at London University, Fellowes reading art history at Goldsmiths College and Thomas studying history and Russian at University College.
The play has been three years in the making, although Lord Fellowes only learned that his son had written it when he and Thomas secured a slot at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, half an hour before the deadline closed. Indeed, he has yet to read or see the play, although he is travelling to Edinburgh to see it in the second week of its run. I am excited about," he says. "Peregrine has kept it very much to himself, which I think is interesting. I'm excited to see what he has come up with."
Does it make a difference to Peregrine that he is the son of a leading scriptwriter, who in 2002 won an Oscar for the film Gosford Park? "Yeah, sure, there is a certain expectation that I feel, even if nobody else does," he says. And does it help to have a playwright as a father? "It gives me a certain insight, yes. It's like anything else – if your parent is in a certain field, it gives you more insight into that field than coming to it fresh. I mean, we've been talking about film and television and theatre for 20 years."
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