Comedy tribute acts are all the rage these days. First Kenneth Williams, then Eric and Ern. Now it’s the turn of another UK comedy giant, Tommy Cooper, to get the ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ treatment – in this slight but thoroughly likeable show that comes with the approval of the Cooper estate.
At 6' 4", Cooper was a comedy giant in more ways than one. His lumbering frame and granite features (captured in John Claridge’s wonderful black-and-white photo portraits which stare down from the walls of the museum’s tiny performance space) were integral to his act, a perfect counterpoint to the childlike glee of his rapid-fire gags and artfully dysfunctional magic.
With that in mind, first impressions of the new Tommy Cooper – played by baby-faced 26-year-old John Hewer – are not great. However, with a tip of the fez here, a shrug of the shoulders there and, most importantly, excellent comic timing, the legendary Welsh comedian is slowly but surely resurrected, some 30 years after his death. It’s a fine, remarkably faithful performance from the talented Hewer.
So we get ‘spoon jar, jar spoon’, the farcical card tricks, the oddball props and that infectious cackle. At best it’s rather like a Harry Hill show: full of inspired lunacy and deep, belly laughs (in the case of the Cooper diehards in the audience, who know every word to these classic routines, laughter often escapes well before the punchlines). At worst it’s like suffering a string of rotten Christmas cracker jokes from an attention-seeking uncle.
Of course, this avalanche of jokes and magical flubs can be exhausting, and Hewer wisely employs musical interludes to add variety. Unfortunately, despite his obvious skill, pianist Christopher Peters simply performs a pair of lukewarm ditties in the Richard Stilgoe mould, complete with horribly dated Home Counties whimsy. It’s a poor fit and the only real misfire in an otherwise entertaining two hours.
One other thing to note: stick around for the interval, when you’ll be greeted by the awesome sight of a man slowly and solemnly letting the air out of an eight-foot inflatable giraffe, the remnants of some inspired shtick at the close of the first half. If that’s not reason enough to recommend a show, I don’t know what is.