Damian Williams seemed destined to play Tommy Cooper. “All my life I’ve been a comedy actor, I’ve done a lot of farces and comedies, and so many of the reviews have said that I’m like Tommy Cooper,” he says.
“Tommy Cooper is a dream role for me as he is one of my comedy heroes. I grew up watching him along with Morecambe 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.”
Damian finally gets to play his hero in Being Tommy Cooper, which arrives at the Grand Opera House on Wednesday, May 29 – and as you might expect, there are plenty of laughs. But there are darker moments too. Set in 1954 Las Vegas, the play centres on a moment when the young comic faces the prospect of his first big failure.
“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,” Damian said. “It’s a great night out as you get all the laughs but there’s also a side of him that nobody knew. There are things about him that I didn’t know until I’d read the script, that the writer Tom Green had found out.”
He found it relatively easy to play Cooper the stage funnyman. “Because I’ve always been a fan of his anyway I do know a lot of his routines, but 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.”
As part of his research he went to Her Majesty’s Theatre in London where Cooper collapsed and died while performing on live television.
“It was a weird feeling 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. Goosebumps, hairs standing on the back of my neck, shivers. I experienced them all standing there.
“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, just a prop monkey from The Phantom of the Opera, the show currently playing at Her Majesty’s.”
- Being Tommy Cooper by Tom Green is at the Grand Opera House, York, on Wednesday, May 29 at 7.30pm
- Tickets cost £11.90 – £27.90. More details on the Grand Opera House website