Theatre review: Being Tommy Cooper, Edinburgh

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WE HAVE entered an age of unsettling revelations about the great and beloved household names of British light entertainment, in the mid-20th century; and the comedian-magician Tommy Cooper was one of the biggest of those stars, the big, shambolic funny man in the fez, who seemed to speak for a whole generation of postwar British men.

Royal Lyceum Theatre

***

Yet in his private life, Cooper was as tormented as any other great clown; and Tom Green’s 100-minute play about his life – which stars an inspired Damian Williams as Cooper, and gave a single, final performance in Edinburgh last night, after a two-month tour across England – pulls no punches in exposing both Cooper’s alcoholism, and his bullying violence towards the two women in his life, his unseen wife Gwen, and his mistress and assistant Mary, played here in beautiful, quiet style by Rebecca Thorn.

Green’s play is, to put it mildly, a lopsided piece of work, which sets up a perfectly good dramatic triangle between Mary, Cooper, and his long-suffering agent Miff Ferrie, and then unbalances it by adding a hopelessly overwritten and largely unnecessary fourth character; the script literally has no ending, simply fading to black in mid-scene, and it involves far too much exaggerated and tedious 
drunk-acting.

Williams’s central performance as Cooper, though, is so powerful that it just about holds the show together – brave, vulnerable, and sometimes frighteningly self-destructive. And despite this play’s structural problems, my prediction is that we haven’t seen the last of Williams as Cooper; and that Being Tommy will soon return to the stage, in a shorter and more powerful form.