Jus' Like That

JOHN LAWSON Norwich Theatre Royal

JOHN LAWSON

Jus' like that, former Soldier Soldier heart-throb Jerome Flynn transforms into comic legend Tommy Cooper before our very eyes.

It's a trick the old master himself would have been proud of - but does it go wrong in the way that so much of his magic used to do?

Well, Flynn would be the first to admit that you can't improve on genius - but he makes a valiant effort to come a close second.

This is no mere impression. He becomes the comedy colossus for the evening right down to every tiny mannerism: the shrug, the laugh, the walk - and, best of all, the ability to have everyone laughing while apparently doing nothing at all.

Nothing is exaggerated in the manner of the impressionist - and as a result the packed ranks of Cooper fans react as if he really has risen from the grave.

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And interestingly, that reaction continues right into the poignant finale, which recreates the moment Cooper suffered a fatal heart attack on live TV in the middle of his act.

Back in 1984, the audience thought his dying breath was still a part of the show and laughed with him to the end - and the same reaction happens here.

But is John Fisher's show truly anything more than a tribute act?

Certainly we are treated to all the Cooper classics - the jar and spoon, the bottles and glasses, the well-planned 'mistakes', but he is a little too coy in exploring the man behind the mask in the first-half dressing room scene.

This was the opportunity really to understand what drove a genius, but apart from a few lesser-known throwaway facts, like how he came upon his trademark fez and his idolisation of the great Max Miller, there are few insights.

We knew of his heavy drinking and his devotion to his wife, Dove (despite an alluded-to long-term affair), but as one of his Cooperette dancing troupe says: "You're always on stage, aren't you."

Maybe that's the point. To probe too far beneath the surface would be to chip away at that legendary status - and we all love Tommy far too much for that.

John Lawson

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