They say variety is the spice of life and the Northern city of Blackpool remains one of the champions of this style of live entertainment. With many beautiful theatres scattered across its seaside streets, it is no surprise The Grand is named as such.
One of the late great giants of comedy is Tommy Cooper. Born in South Wales in 1921, to a Welsh recruiting sergeant in the British Army and his Devonshire wife, Tommy's talents and interest in performing and entertaining came when his aunt bought him a magic set. His brother David opened a magic shop in the 1960s so there was clearly a family interest.
Influenced by the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Max Miller and Bob Hope, he became a member of a NAAFI entertainment party after being called up as a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards, originally serving in Egypt. Among his many iconic mannerism and catchphrases that developed over the years, his fez is one of his memorable assets, originally borrowing it from a passing waiter after forgetting the pith helmet that was to complete his costume for the sketch in Cairo. This got huge laughs and became one of his trademarks. This is one of the anecdotes featured in Daniel Taylor's ingenious show paying tribute to the big guy, in which he portrays the master himself.
Blessed by Cooper's daughter Vicki, The Tommy Cooper Show is a piece highlighting a few aspects of the entertainer's life. Relying on a small selection of the catalogue of 'never get old' gags, we are left to wonder - as Tommy's agent questions - whether he is "a good magician trying to be bad or a bad magician trying to be good."
TV presenter and personality Gareth Jones (aka Gaz Top) plays Tommy's agent Miff Ferrie, as well as a soldier, a BBC talent rep, Bruce Forsyth, Tommy's son Tom and even Queen Elizabeth II. A versatile actor, he played them all well, adding to the light-heartedness of the show. Providing the required contrasting dynamics, Sharon Byatt's portrayal of Tommy's wife Gwen is brilliantly dramatic but the slight staggering of the show's scenes made the story hard to follow at times for those who do not know the star very well. This was helped by the nice lighting transitions to split the scenes up.
Daniel Taylor, the lead and brainchild of the show, has clearly worked to live, breath and perfect his portrayal, with good timing making the audience easy to lead. This is down to him, his experience as a performer and his writing of the show with Ian Carroll. The brilliance of the 'box of hats' routine, 'the bouncing stool' and reactions to audience members' laughs bring the show to life, as does the 'old-time' music played in the theatre before, after and in the interval of the show.
A pleasant night's entertainment with insight into the life of a star of comedy, there could have been more light and shade in showing the stresses and pressures of his life but you certainly get an idea of some, particularly in the 'market stall', 'audition' and 'home' scene before Tommy's son joins him on the road.
With some singing and a minimal set, this show provides nostalgia for those who remember the good old days and admire Tommy's sketches and an introduction to those who are intrigued.
The Tommy Cooper Show is at Blackpool Grand Theatre tonight before continuing its tour to Darlington (24 Sep), St Helens (27 Sep) and Runcorn (22 Jan).
Reviewer: Chris Oatway
Reviewed: 4th September 2015