Take a red Fez, a bunch of cheap magic tricks and an endless supply of silly one line gags and you have what sounds like a vaudeville nightmare of tedious boredom. However, add the one missing magical ingredient to this mixture and you then have side-splitting hilarity as you witness the simplest of tricks, which undoubtedly will go wrong, turn into a prop for comical genius. The missing ingredient is the ‘gentle giant’ of British comedy Tommy Cooper (who died live on stage at Her Majesty’s in 1984). For decades Tommy Cooper’s unique blend of dysfunctional tricks, unruly hair and screwball mannerisms entertained the British either on TV or at the end of a Pier.
John Fisher, the writer and creator of the show, is obviously a besotted fan of Tommy Cooper. He has included in the show the bottle and glass routine, the blind folded wooden duck that picks the selected playing card out of a deck, the famous vanishing candle trick and much more. Strewn throughout the magical routines are some of the best and worse of Cooper’s jokes, “Doctor, I’ve broken my arm in three places”, “Well”, replied the doctor, “Don’t go to those places”. Or the wife who complains, “I’m homesick”, “But you are home” says her husband, to which the wife replies, “I know, and I’m sick of it!”
To this apparently mindless collection of ailing tricks and cheap jokes, it is left to the actor Jerome Flynn to add the magical ingredient of Tommy Cooper, the comic genius that can turn this material into instant fun and frivolity. Flynn’s sharp chiselled facial features, gravel voice and deep bellowing laughter make him a great double for Tommy Cooper. He captures Cooper’s look of amazement when a trick works and complete indifference when it does not. Like Tommy he bumbles around the stage looking as if he has not got a clue as to what he is suppose to be doing, masking with incompetence the timing and skill needed for the act to work.
Simon Callow’s production has lovingly reproduced Tommy Cooper the performer but sadly fails to introduce us to Tommy Cooper the man. We are taken at one point behind the scenes into Cooper’s dressing room. We are told of his wife Gwen, whom he lovingly nicknamed Dove. It was Gwen who helped formed his act, encouraging him to concentrate more upon his comedy rather than his skills as a magician and at her suggestion he always kept his jokes free from vulgarity. He had a mistress called Mary, but we learn nothing more about her and we are told of his drive for perfection in his acts, but we see no sign of this as he knocks down drink after drink. Because we learn so little about the man there seems little point to this scene and I suspect the show would have been better if it had been cut from the production. John Fisher is so obviously a fan of Tommy Cooper that it seems he does not want to introduce us to the darker side of his hero.
The show is a mixture of frivolous comic delights, sadly I never saw Tommy Cooper on stage, however I imagine watching Jerome Flynn in “Just Like That!” is the next best thing.
What other critics had to say.....
CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This is a genuinely affectionate and enjoyable show that does something approaching justice to an irreplaceable comic genius." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Whatever the cavils and caveats, Flynn is a mimic to relish." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Jerome Flynn here does an astonishing job of recreating Tommy Cooper." SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "His [Flynn] impersonation of Tommy Cooper is little short of brilliant."
External links to full reviews from popular press