Review – Being Tommy Cooper

Jun 26 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩ All fezzed up

Being Tommy Cooper. Damien Williams in the title role. © Graeme Braidwood photography.

Being Tommy Cooper. Damien Williams in the title role. © Graeme Braidwood photography.

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Mon 24 June 2013
Review by Irene Brown

Not Quite Like That would be a more appropriate title, for an odd amalgam of tribute act and exposé of the man beneath the famous fez, which ends up being neither.

Writer Tim Green only compounds the confusion by saying that, although the play is inspired by Cooper, it is not intended as a biography. Also, that while most of the elements are true, the characters are meant to be fictional.

The play opens in Las Vegas 1954, with Cooper facing a show closure at the start of his career. Failed old pro Billy Glason (Morgan Deare) is trying – and failing – to sell the incorrigibly tight fisted comedian an encyclopaedia of jokes.

From here, the play shifts between Las Vegas and England, using Susannah Henry’s static set of a giant broken roulette wheel, a decrepit old puggy machine and the single bed of some shabby theatrical digs.

And all the while it reveals the tense relationship between Cooper (Damian Williams) and his long-suffering agent, another old pro, the prim and poshly pan-loaf accented Miff Ferrie, impeccably played by Halcro Johnston.

Williams captures Cooper’s unique physicality and voice very well in a first half that is given largely to reproducing Cooper’s act. This is the Cooper everyone knows, the apparently clumsy magician with the naturally comic physicality.

Cooper’s unique brand of comedy magic is at first reproduced with such aplomb that this appears to be what the show is about – the Tommy Cooper known from the TV. But there is a declared attempt here to look behind that facade – based, according to the actor, on a throwaway remark by Cooper that it is exhausting being him.

It is such a slender thread on which to hang a characterisation on, however, that the results are far from clear. Even in the play’s darkest moments the clichés and jokes have as much of an impact as Williams’ performance when in confessorial mode.

Cooper’s confession to being an alcoholic, wife beater and adulterer does not add to any understanding him. It is just the revalation of a much-loved comic character for what he really is – as he makes the claims without any regret or possibility of redemption.

The possibility of beginning to understand Cooper comes from his long term and long-suffering lover, Mary Kay (Rebecca Thorn) who tells him at one point: “You are most yourself when you are most hidden away”. More of Mary and less of the Glason character could have given more of the dramatic poignancy delivered in recent television dramas about the private lives of Hattie Jacques, Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd.

Act 2 is harsher theatre as the face of misogyny is exposed in all its ugliness through the dialogue. Cooper’s wife Gwen is as invisible on stage as she appears to have been in his life – apart from at the sacred Sunday lunch times.

The production feels lost on the Lyceum stage and would have worked better in a smaller, more intimate setting. Fans of Cooper will enjoy seeing the man being brought to life with such skill – yet the appearance of his stark ugly side is like magic trick gone badly wrong.

Tour ended

Running time 2 hours
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX. Mon 24 June.

Being Tommy Cooper website:


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