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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Jus' Like That!
Garrick Theatre 2003

If you know who Tommy Cooper is, then read no further. All the classics are here. With gravelly guffaws and unruly hair, Jerome Flynn does a more than fair imitation (and should get better as the run progresses). "Bottle, glass, glass, bottle!" is as funny as ever. The cheesy, glitzy set is a perfect recreation of classic "End of Pier". What more could you want?

If he somehow passed you by, then Tommy Cooper was a comedian-magician still regarded with god-like status in Britain. He got about in the States and is accorded legendary status in showbiz circles both sides of the Pond. His more than 30-year career famously ended when he died in 1984 in the middle of his act on live TV.

Cooper's genius lay in taking corny magic routines (pausing to read the instructions in the middle of a new trick) and Christmas cracker one-liners ("Doctor, I've broken my arm in three places." "Well don't go to those places!" ) to surreal heights of humour. The title is his catchphrase -- the very proximity of a fez to a Briton's cranial zone will prompt an instant Pavlovian "Jus' like that!" complete with Cooper-like flourish of hands.

Cooper's bumbling ineptitude and physical gaucheness belied a sense of timing that was second to none and an unrivalled understanding of how far he couldtake his audience -- a skill made all the more awesome when you consider that this vaudevillian was equally at ease on stage and on TV. Of course his act falls into the "I can't really explain it, you have to see it" category, so even if magic-comedy isn't your thing, historical curiosity could make the show worthwhile.

Jerome Flynn holds everything together, possessing as he does the craggy features and much of the physical presence of Cooper. There is a bevy of well-rehearsed dancers who punctuate proceedings at the time-honoured transitional points in any variety-style spectacular. But chorus line apart, this is a one-man show -- and one that's infuriatingly done by numbers.

I say "infuriatingly" because Cooper's career and the showbiz times in which he lived are mostly lost in the lacklustre format taken straight out of chapter 1, volume 1 of "How To Write A One-Man Show". Writer John Fisher's scenario has Cooper doing his act, then talking to us from -- surprise, surprise -- his dressing room as he prepares for the next show.

The stage act goes down a storm -- Flynn has studied his subject well and it shows, and his clear rapport with the audience is sealed the instant he walks on, but though the backstage stuff is, well, neither good nor bad, it badly shows up the joins in the cobbled-together structure.

Cooper getting all soul-revealing in between costume changes and swigs of improvised cocktails is nothing more than a device and Flynn struggles to make any contrast with Cooper the performer. The few references to his personal life -- his wife, his mistress, his substance abuse -- throw little light on the man behind the act and instead have the effect of over-exposing the area where the show is weakest but aspires most to go.

The lack of sustained interest is all the more marked when you realise the show has the blessing of the comic's late wife and unparalleled access to all his stage material. And so you can't help feeling that director Simon Callow gives both Fisher and Flynn an easy ride by coasting on the audience's familiarity with the material.

In reassembling rather than recreating the art of comic double act Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise (the same generation as Cooper), the West End hit The Play What I Wrote proved how to bring past comedy to life for a contemporary audience of all tastes. Jus' Like That! is aso a guaranteed, and deserved, hit with the fans but will struggle beyond that.

Nick Awde

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Review - Jus' Like That - Garrick 2003