Being Tommy Cooper (Birmingham)
New Alexandra Theatre
Tommy Cooper is, without doubt, one of the greatest entertainment icons of the 20th century. Considering he died almost 30 years ago the iconic costume of a tuxedo and red fez hat is still recognisable to this day as well as his unmistakable laugh and routines. In Being Tommy Cooper Damian Williams takes on the job of portraying the iconic giant of a character and does so with ease and accuracy.
The play is not just about Tommy Cooper but about his manager Miff Ferrie (Halcro Johnston), his mistress and personal assistant Mary Kay (Rebecca Thorn) and an American salesman Billy Glason (Morgan Deare) and their experiences with Cooper. The play's 'present' time is during Cooper's misjudged time in Las Vegas in 1954.
Glason wants to sell Cooper and encyclopaedia of jokes and Ferrie is trying to calm things between Cooper and his wife Gwen. There are flashbacks to Cooper's initial meeting with Ferrie in which the audience can see the basis of their somewhat frosty relationship, a strange metaphorical inner monologue from Glason comparing life to a slot machine on stage and scenes in which Kay struggles to get Cooper from place to place as she can't compare to his wife and the drink. All these things show Cooper as a very difficult man to work with.
The stand out performance though is, of course, Williams in the title role. Throughout the play we're treated to Cooper routines performed with the comic's impeccable timing and mannerisms. The audience, mostly made up of Cooper fans, lapped it up and were probably laughing as much, if not more, than they would have done the first time they saw or heard these routines.
The play is full of great comedy but also some high drama. The end of act one has Cooper admitting to his issues. The honesty is heartbreaking and sets up the second act to show more insights into his darker times. Williams' performance as a drunk Cooper is sublime and the closing image of the play of him slumped in a drunken stupor alone in a hotel room is moving, even if the end of the play just seems to fizzle out.
All together though this is a must see for fans of Cooper. It doesn't try to demonise him (all the faults shown are well known) or overly praise him. It's a fair representation to all those shown and mentioned on stage. Tom Green, the play's author, states that it is not intended as a biography but as a play inspired by Cooper and in this regard he succeeds.
- Jonathan Wright