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Being Tommy Cooper (tour - Guildford, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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 Tom Green’s Being Tommy Cooper is not a straight biopic of the late comedian known for his chortle, red fez and untimely demise. Rather it's a theatrical imagining of Cooper’s rise to fame, his relationship with his long-time manager and confessions of alcoholism and domestic abuse, this play attempts to look at the man under the fez. Unfortunately, unless you are a fan of Cooper, Green’s play does not stand alone as a piece of drama.

The structure of the play means that it lacks pace as it flits between multiple locations and time periods, destroying the momentum and tension. The “behind the scenes” look at Cooper’s off-stage personality is spliced between sections of stand-up comedy and audience interaction which leaves the audience in a limbo state between suspension of disbelief and interacting with a comedian.

However the scenes where Damian Williams as Cooper recreates the comedian’s routine has the audience in stitches and he fills the stage with his larger than life presence. Williams gives a sterling performance, not shying away from the darkness in Cooper’s character and creating astounding tension as the audience watch his descent into drink-fuelled rages. As his long-suffering manager Miff Ferrie, Halcro Johnston provides a sobering straight man for Williams to rage and rebel against and acts as a cornerstone against which to judge Cooper’s eroding likability.

Green has also written in Cooper’s long-term mistress Mary Kay, played by Rebecca Thorn and a Las Vegas salesman (Billy Glason) played by Morgan Deare. Although Thorn gives a moving performance, these two characters are essentially superfluous to the plot and Deare’s unconvincing characterisation often hinders the action. Cecily Boys' blocking is at times messy and inconsistent and could be tightened up very easily, although she does have her actors use Susannah Henry’s cheekily designed set interestingly.

But essentially, despite various theatrical flaws, the audience seem to enjoy it; roaring with belly laughter at Williams’ performance. Fans of Cooper’s comedy will not be disappointed but patrons unfamiliar with his work may be left frustrated with the play's shortcomings.


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