Hard to believe that it is 20 years since genius comic and magician Tommy Cooper passed away during a live television performance from Her Majesty's Theatre; harder still to imagine how one would even set about recreating his particular and peculiar brand of childlike appeal.
In Jus' Like That, Cooper's fan, follower and in the latter stages of his career, his TV producer, John Fisher, has assembled some of the performer's best-known gags and magic tricks, and turned what was essentially a short variety routine into the most part of a two-hour play.
Jerome Flynn brilliantly recreates the charm, appeal and innocent fun of Cooper's act, from his laugh to his shrug, his walk, intonation and inimitable knack of making you laugh by doing apparently nothing. It's an affectionate remembrance of a man whose own life was always tinged with performance, even offstage.
And that is the genius of the show. For the final 20 minutes of act one, we are entertained by Tommy the man, alone in his dressing room, preparing for his main performance of the evening. He is preparing tricks, chatting about his wife, drinking too much, yet just at the moment where you think you see a glimpse of the real man behind the act, out he comes with another gag.
Both in his dressing room as Cooper the man, and back out on stage as Cooper the performer for act two, Flynn captures the sheer essence of the late star, whether indulging in an spot of on-stage slapstick, delaying a magic trick's climax over and over to tell another funny story, or simply shrugging it off when it all goes (intentionally) wrong. And some of the tricks, put together by Magic Director Geoffrey Durham, still bring a warm gasp of delight.
The affection with which Flynn becomes Cooper is obviously backed by a deep fondness, and it shows in an intelligent performance which goes beyond any kind of tribute act.
But the proof of the comedy is in the laughter, and the chuckles come thick and fast in a show which has you grinning from ear to ear from the second the curtain rises to the moment it falls. You can't help yourself. It's magic the way it happens. Jus' like that.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at the Royal Theatre, Northampton)