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)