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One sentence reveals the torment of always being in the comedy spotlight

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 17, 2013

  • Damian Williams, who plays the lead in Being Tommy Cooper, on stage at Her Majesty's Theatre where Tommy died on the anniversary of his death this year

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A new play brings the giant comedy talent of Tommy Cooper back to the stage. Being Tommy Cooper, by Tom Green, is set in Las Vegas, 1954. In a small hotel room up-and-coming act Tommy faces the prospect of his first big failure. With the show closing and a warring relationship with his manager, Tommy finds an offer on the table and a drink in his hand.

Powerful, provocative, painfully funny and true, the play celebrates the brilliance in Britain's most famous comic and explores the pressures and loneliness of fame.

"Basically it charts Tommy's life, it's all about him and how he was both as a performer and as a person," says Damian Williams, who plays Tommy.

"It's a brilliant play because people are obsessed with him in this country. It's very truthful so it's all about his dark side as well as his genius, and that's what's great about it – you get the whole story."

"Tommy Cooper is a dream role for me as Tommy is one of my comedy heroes. I grew up watching him along with Morecombe and Wise, Les Dawson and Laurel and Hardy and many other 'old school' comedians and 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.

"The difficulty in being Tommy Cooper is mastering the scenes when Tommy isn't performing, when he's being himself. 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'. He was always being Tommy the magician and entertainer."

Tommy collapsed at Her Majesty's Theatre on live television and died shortly after. Damian visited the theatre on the anniversary of Tommy's death this year.

"It was weird walking in the same stage door he walked in that night, entering from stage left, the same side he entered and standing in the middle of the stage where he stood for the last time. I had goosebumps, hairs standing on the back of my neck, shivers. A member of the crew 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 stood there trying to look for signs of Tommy. Of course there weren't any, just a prop monkey from The Phantom of the Opera, the show currently playing at Her Majesty's."

Being Tommy Cooper is at the Princess Theatre, Torquay on May 25 and Weston-Super-Mare Playhouse on June 11.

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