If this play by Tom Green is to be taken literally, Tommy Cooper was a pretty horrible, unhappy, short-tempered drunk, who beat his wife and was incredibly tight when it came to money (he used to tip taxi drivers by pushing a tea bag in their top pocket and saying ‘have a drink on me’).
He was also, of course, a genius. ‘I’ve just been cleaning out the attic with the wife. Dirty, filthy, covered in cobwebs, but she’s good with the kids’; ‘I’m on a whisky diet. Last week I lost three days’; ‘I went to the vet. He said I’m going to have to put your dog down. I said oh no why? He said my arms are aching’.
A few classics from the Cooper repertoire, brilliantly delivered here by Damian Williams, an experienced TV actor who is superb as Cooper, getting all the mannerisms and the famous laugh down to a tee.
The play focuses on a particular period in Cooper’s life – early on in his comic career and his first failure, when a show he’s appearing in Stateside closes after bad reviews.
There are three other characters on stage – his po-faced, humourless manager Miff Ferrie (played very well by Halcro Johnston), slightly desperate gag-writer Billy Glason, and Cooper’s besotted but put-upon mistress Mary Kay.
The first half of the play is quite cheery, showing Cooper at his best, reeling off jokes, performing those trademark dodgy magic tricks, and interacting with an enthusiastic if disappointingly sparse crowd at the Grand.
But after the interval it gets a whole lot darker as Cooper’s drink problem worsens and he starts to bare his soul and reveal a dark side, the very definition of a tortured genius.
The play was in Blackpool for one-night only, in the midst of a national tour which ends in Edinburgh on June 24.
Highly recommended and a thought-provoking portrayal of a man who will always be loved by millions, yet wasn’t quite what he seemed.