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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Jus' Like That
by Brian Clover

I went into a shop the other day and said - I'll have a wasp please. They said - We don't have any. I said -You had one in the window'.
-- Tommy Cooper
Jus' Like That
Jerome Flynn and company as Tommy Cooper and the Cooperettes
(Photo: John Haynes)
Seeing this show is the closest any of us will ever to get to seeing the late, great comedian Tommy Cooper live. British comedy from his epoch seems in rude, if posthumous, health at the moment with The Play What I wrote and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg transferring to warm Broadway receptions. There is no reason why Jus' Like That shouldn't do the same despite its star being unknown in the States. It has the same gag-led charm and endearing clownishness that made Tommy Cooper such a long-lived figure in the British public consciousness.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, director Simon Callow was frank about the nature of the piece, "We wanted to create the effect of seeing Tommy live, not psycho-analyse him". This is a re-creation of, and a tribute to Cooper's show rather than a play about him. We see no backstage alcoholism or self-destruction, no tortured artist wrestling with his demons because he doesn't seem to have had any. In the one segment to take place off the glitzy stage Cooper drinks and thinks and reflects and reminisces in his dressing room. Here we might expect the angst and machination we see in other plays about comedians as if to offer an explanation about what drove them; (Lenny or Trevor Griffiths' Comedians even The Entertainer by John Osborne). Instead the switch from front to backstage, from public to private persona is really just a change of pace to soften us up for more of Cooper's act afterwards.

The act itself is sublime, a cascade of surreal one liners, great anecdotes and asides tumble over each other and the famous botched magic tricks. Portraying Cooper is Jerome Flynn, best known in the UK for his TV work (and a No.1 hit with "Unchained Melody"). He has a tremendously difficult job to do and does it with aplomb. Flynn's mannerisms are near perfect, his delivery very carefully honed and he has the same gangly presence as Cooper. It was fascinating to observe him when he invited audience participation as this is where the difference between an actor's preparation and a comic's ability to improvise is most distinct. Flynn manages this comfortably and it was only his young man's energy that reminded you he was an actor playing a significantly older comic.

The problem is that even highly polished comedy can become a victim of its own success. A crowd becomes joke-fatigued after half an hour laughing and a comedian's act must be paced with military precision to avoid this. Great song and dance numbers and the backstage scene were canny attempts to duck this but towards the end the audience couldn't really keep up with the sheer volume of gags.

Tommy Cooper actually died mid-act on the stage that he lived for and I was dreading a depiction of this but the production side-steps death and takes us to straight to the afterlife where he is entirely unchanged. The dancing girls re-appear as angels and he hefts Heaven's Grand Piano onto his back and marches offstage triumphant. As a climax it's as serene as it is charming and twice as surreal. Overall Jus' Like That is a wholly entertaining tribute to a great performer and, if you can remember its eminently quotable gags, you can be the envy of all your friends.

Jus' Like That
Written by John Fisher
Directed by Simon Callow

With: Chloe Bell, Cathie Carday, Jo Cavanagh, Pippa Raine, Amanda Valentine, Jo Williams
Designer: Christopher Woods
Magic Direction: Geoffrey Durham
Lighting Designer: Nick Richings
Sound: Mike Walker
Musical Supervision and Original Music: Paul Bateman
Choreography: Craig Revel Horwood
Running time: Two hours with one interval .
Box Office: 0870 890 1104
Booking to 21st June 2003
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 9th April 2003 Performance at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road London WC2 (Tube/Rail Station: Charing Cross)

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