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Being Tommy Cooper @ Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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A magic tale about Tommy - just like that
Tommy Cooper is one of the most well-loved, respected and iconic British comedians of the 20th Century, so bringing him to life on stage is a tough act to follow.

Actor Damian Williams takes on the task in the new play Being Tommy Cooper at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre on June 12.

Tommy1
Being Tommy Cooper is performed for one night only at the New Alexandra Theatre - Photo Courtesy of atgtickets.com


Set in Las Vegas in 1954, the story is set before Tommy Cooper became a household name. It delves into the relationship between the comedian and his manager while examining the price of fame and the loneliness that celebrity can bring.

Cooper was first seen on television in 1948, but it was not until 1968 that he got a regular slot on London Weekend Television. By the mid 1970's, Cooper was one of the most successful and recognisable comedians in the world.

Sadly, the comic died in 1984, collapsing from a heart attack on live television in front of millions of viewers during his act on variety show "Live From Her Majesty's".

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Damian Williams stars as the iconic comedian - Photo Courtesy of atgtickets.com


Damian Williams, who stars as Cooper, is better known as the presenter of Damian's Are You Smarter Than Your 10 Year Old on Sky One. Discussing the role, Williams said he grew up watching Cooper along with Morecombe and Wise, Les Dawson and Laurel and Hardy and many other "old school" comedians.

"I was so influenced by them that I decided from an early age that that is what I wanted to do, to be a performer, to make people laugh," said Williams.

"I became an actor at the age of 15, joined a Rep theatre company and learnt my craft. Twenty seven years later, I'm playing my hero, a genius and a true comedy legend."

He added: "The difficulty in being Tommy Cooper is mastering the scenes when Tommy isn't performing, when he's being himself. There are no recordings of him when he isn't 'Being Tommy Cooper'. He was always 'on'; playing up to the camera and never gave anything of himself away.

"There is one documentary called "The Untold Tommy Cooper" where they are talking to him and you can see he is tired. They say 'this must be exhausting', and there is one line where he says 'yes, it is' where he is not being Tommy Cooper.

So I have this one sentence to work out what he's like when he's not being Tommy Cooper. Because whenever he was on telly, in interviews or performing he was always being Tommy the magician and entertainer."

In preparation for the role, Williams visited the place of Cooper's death - Her Majesty's Theatre - on the anniversary of the comedian's death. Williams described the experience as "a weird feeling" to walk in the same stage door that Cooper walked in that night, entering from stage left, the same side the comedian entered and standing in the middle of the stage where the star stood for the last time.

Goosebumps, hairs standing on the back of my neck, shivers. I experienced them all standing there," said Williams. "A member of the crew appeared and said "That's where he died", pointing to the prop store stage left, "they dragged him into there, and that's where he died".

"I followed the crew member into the tiny room and just stood there trying to look for signs of Tommy. Of course there weren't any."

Getting back to the play, Williams explains that it is very truthful, "about his dark side as well as his genius, and that's what's great about it - you get the whole story".

"It's a great night out as you get all the laughs but there's also a side of him that nobody knew," adds Williams. "There are things about him that I didn't know until I'd read the script, that the writer Tom Green had found out. So it's a fantastic play."

Tom Green's plays also include The Death Of Margaret Thatcher, at the Courtyard Theatre, and radio plays including For Ever England and The Tent, both for BBC Radio 4.

The play, which stops off in Birmingham as part of a 39-date national tour, is not suitable for anyone under the age of 14.

The performance is 1h 20mins long.

Being Tommy Cooper
Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre
June 12 at 7.30pm
Tickets cost £13.90 - £27.90
from Theatre Website

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Why? Poignant play about a comedy genius
When: June 12, at 7.30pm
Phone: 0844 871 3011
Where: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Cost: £13.90 - £27.90
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