TOMMY Cooper? In Blackpool? On a Sunday night? The queues would have formed from mid-day . . .
Alas, the comedy genius died nearly 30 years ago, with his iconic red fez on - just as he predicted. Today his fans are left with TV repeats, or the occasional stage dramatisation, like this latest play from Tom Green.
It’s based around the comedy magician’s faltering attempt to break into the American market during a 1954 Las Vegas appearance. There he meets – and then haggles with – Billy Glason, trying to sell a 26-part encyclopaedia of jokes. Cooper’s manager, the indomitably dour Scotsman Miff Ferrie attempts to intervene, while in less-clearly-defined times the comedian’s mistress Mary Kay makes her own interventions in his life.
That much is all true, as is the equally well-documented dark side of Cooper’s character, a mean, heavy-drinking, wife-beater and cheater.
Green’s dramatisation of all this manages to shift between the shadows of real life into the bright spotlight of Cooper’s stage appearances. In clear testament to his playing of the title role Damian Williams gets his first laugh just walking on stage, and builds on a thoroughly-convincing portrayal, particularly as the comedian descends. The “glass-bottle, bottle-glass” routine takes on a deeper meaning.
So it’s clear from the outset this play is never going to be quite as honorific as John Fisher’s Jus’ Like That, in which Jerome Flynn proved his versatility. Instead it attempts more of a dramatic deconstruction, but maybe ascribes just too much to the Billy Glason role, when there’s much more to be made of Cooper’s relationship with Miff Ferrie.
The four-strong cast are all up to the challenge, but it is Williams’ comedy ‘on-stage’ interludes - with those faultless gags and faulty tricks - that are on much firmer ground.
Perhaps concealing the real face of a clown will always remain Tommy Cooper’s best magic trick?