The Very Best Of Tommy Cooper
The Liverpool Theatre Festival rolled on with a show to conclude its first of two weekends, that being a tribute to a true British comedy legend in the form of The Very Best Of Tommy Cooper, written by and starring veteran Liverpool theatre actor Daniel Taylor.
For a generation of Brits, Tommy Cooper was the most recognisable and most popular British comedian around. His act was unique for its time, providing a blend of light-hearted comedy, old-fashioned musical sing-songs and, most famously, magic, albeit with tricks that were intentionally hit-or-miss in terms of success. It’s impossible to discuss the history of British comedy, if not the history of British light entertainment in general, without discussing Tommy Cooper, a man that we lost far too soon in 1984, but whose legacy remains as strong as ever more than 35 years later.
Over the course of 60 minutes, Daniel Taylor brings to life the core elements of Tommy Cooper’s act. Donning Cooper’s famous fez hat, Taylor’s goal is to essentially provide a “greatest hits” compilation of Tommy’s most notable wise-cracks and attempted tricks live on stage. The Bombed Out Church setting, which is fast becoming one of my favourite live entertainment venues during the course of the Liverpool Theatre Festival, was a fitting back-drop because of the heritage of the site adding to the nostalgic warmth provided by the performance, as well as the peace and serenity offered by the location, except for the sounds of police cars passing by, which Taylor humorously reacted to in character, which garnered some big laughs.
Daniel Taylor appears in a fair few shows, but The Very Best Of Tommy Cooper is one of his core staples of work, and this evening demonstrated why that is the case. Taylor was able to effortlessly step into the shoes of Cooper, mimicking all of his mannerisms, from the shaky hands and fingers to the occasional subtle giggles to the exaggerated facial expressions. He also bears a physical resemblance to the great man, particularly when viewing him from a side-on angle. For a show like this to work, it’s important that the audience can suspend its disbelief and imagine that its primary subject is literally standing before them, which is how I felt when watching this production.
As for the show itself, it certainly had its highlights. I felt it took a bit of time for the audience to really get into the performance, but once they did, the big laughs came on a frequent basis. We had a plethora of vintage Cooper one-liners, all delivered with a stony-faced deadpan look from Taylor. We had some musical interludes, with the tune Just Like That serving as the soundtrack on more than one occasion. To me, though, the homages to Cooper’s magic tricks were the most memorable moments, with a mix of success (the bag within a bag), failure (the attempt to hoist a rope into the ceiling of the stage) and both (the glass bottle/bottle glass trick, which was performed fine except for an expose of how he was able to do it in the aftermath). The fact that Cooper was supremely qualified to deliver magic, but modified his act so that he only had a 50/50 success rate, was such a vital part of what made him special, and this came across prominently during the show.
The Very Best Of Tommy Cooper manages to pack in as many jokes, stories, songs and tricks into sixty minutes as possible, and any fans of this British variety legend will be thoroughly satisfied by this show. Once we’re allowed to start attending shows at established theatres again, I would recommend checking out Daniel Taylor’s one-man tribute to Tommy Cooper, whether you’re a longtime fan looking for a reminder of the past or whether you’re a new student of comedy looking to discover why, to this day, Cooper remains one of Britain’s most famous stand-up performers.