On one side of the stage, Morgan Deare as Billy Glason lectures us on Las Vegas slot machines. He’s there to try to sell jokes to Tommy Cooper, without much success. On the other side is Cooper’s agent Miff Ferrie, meticulously played by Halcro Johnston, sitting in his makeshift office trying to placate Cooper’s wife Gwen over the phone. Centre stage is a bedraggled Cooper in his hotel room, searching for comfort in a whisky bottle.
The action moves seamlessly between these scenarios but really comes to life when Damian Williams steps forward, the lights go up and he is Tommy Cooper. We also flash back to his first meeting with Miff, and forward to a day spent with his lover and personal assistant Mary Kay, played with considerable poignancy by Rebecca Thorn.
Tom Green explores the tension between Cooper’s stage persona and the man himself. Williams has an uncanny control of the audience, used to great effect during a scene in the second half – where he gets increasingly drunk and aggressive – in which he begins a magic trick, turns backstage and says, “They’re not laughing”, then turns to the audience to ask “why aren’t you laughing?”. Increasingly intense, he asks us to understand how hard it is being Tommy Cooper. You can hear a pin drop.
Unfortunately, the play rather fizzles out. But the enduring image is not of one of the nation’s favourite comedians slumped on a hotel bed, but of Mary telling him why she puts up with his abuse: “It’s the real you on stage, even though it’s an act. You’re most yourself when you’re most hidden away.”