The lighter side of a dark star

Daniel Taylor as Tommy Cooper in The Tommy Cooper Show

Daniel Taylor as Tommy Cooper in The Tommy Cooper Show

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The Tommy Cooper Show, Grand Theatre, Blackpool

A show with this title, and that star, would have been selling out twice nightly in Blackpool during the Illuminations.

On theatre billboards the face beneath the fez would have had queues of theatregoers chuckling even before the curtain went up.

Such was the pulling power of a variety hall performer and TV star whose apparently random craft is still celebrated in documentaries, books and stage performances, even 30 years after his death.

The Tommy Cooper Show is the third such production seen hereabouts in recent years and bids to blend a fairly faithful tribute to his stage act into some of the well-documented biographical details of his off-stage life. The gags and misfiring magic tricks are always worth dusting off and Daniel Taylor makes a passable impression in delivering both, even if he does choose to make his first stage appearance without that trademark fez. An unforgiveable omission!

Much less certain is the grafting on of the Cooper back story, despite some hard work by Sharon Byatt as his long-suffering wife Gwen, or Gareth Jones as his dour theatrical agent Miff Ferrie. The latter also performs half a dozen other cameos, from the Queen to Bruce Forsyth.

These dramatic scenes, interspersed with the stage performance, look clumsily and confusingly like after-thoughts. There’s certainly enough vivid material in Cooper’s private life, and other productions – such as Jus’ Like That or Being Tommy Cooper – have more unerringly revealed the mask of tragedy behind the face of a clown.

The old ‘bottle-glass, glass-bottle’ conjuring trick takes on dark significance when considered alongside the comic’s drinking habits, while his most spectacular illusion was probably that of a doting husband, who abused and cheated on his wife. A fact barely mentioned here.

David Upton