The Tommy Cooper Show

Daniel Taylor and Ian Carroll
Daniel Taylor Productions Ltd
Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Daniel Taylor as Tommy Cooper Credit: Debs Marsden

There is a revealing passage in the second volume of Danny Baker’s memoirs, Going Off Alarming, when he describes the arrival of Tommy Cooper in the ’Green Room’ before his appearance on a TV show.

Baker and the rest of the hardened production team were in fits of giggles from the moment he appeared, which only intensified as Cooper tried to decide where to sit. He goes on to make the point that life may not have been easy for Cooper, with people bursting into hysterics upon seeing him, even when he wasn’t trying to be funny.

That story is important in placing in context the scale of what this production is aiming to do, namely recreate the genius of Cooper. Therefore, the acid test would be the first appearance of Daniel Taylor as Cooper and it is no exaggeration to say that he is breathtaking, quite literally, as most of the audience are already chuckling at the first sight of him.

Tommy Cooper is such a well-known character that the pressure is on the broad shoulders of Daniel Taylor, but he delivers a sublime portrayal. Every familiar nuance is here: the bewildered expression, the repeated turns of the head, the most familiar of voices and that unmistakeable and dangerously infectious Cooper laugh.

The show is structured around the story of Tommy Cooper’s career, which is skilfully interwoven with some of his best-loved sketches give the appearance of a continual show.

Sharon Byatt turns in a touching performance as Cooper’s enduring wife Gwen, while Gareth Jones is magnificently versatile as his agent Miff Ferrie as well as a number of brief cameos including, memorably, The Queen.

A number of the most familiar ’tricks’ and sketches are lovingly recreated, such as "glass, bottle, bottle, glass", "spoon, jar" and the inevitable hat sketch, where Cooper’s apparent confusion as to where exactly he is up to is a real joy. All of these and more are brought to life as Taylor, whose timing is superb, prowls the stage chuckling, engaging the audience and occasionally feigning utter bafflement such as when his "disappearing cabinet" fails to work.

No story of Tommy Cooper is complete without the darker elements that make up the complete narrative and this production does not ignore them, nor does it dwell upon them. The subjects of his increasing alcohol intake and another woman are apparent but do not detract from the main thrust of the show, which is to celebrate one of the great British comedy geniuses.

Likewise, there is no getting away from the tragic and very public nature of Cooper’s death, but the way in which this production depicts it is both sensitive and touching.

The true impact of The Tommy Cooper Show is best gauged by the ovation of an audience who have spent the duration of the show utterly entranced by this portrayal and laughing along as if the great man was actually present in the room with us.

This is essential viewing for those who loved and remember Tommy Cooper as indeed it is for those who may never have seen him as it is difficult to conceive of a better recreation of such a unique and memorable character.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings