How many people came because they were fans of Tommy Cooper, how many because they loved the master of comical ad-libs Damian Williams?
Whatever their motivation, they got a winning combination in the portrayal of a great British treasure by Chesterfield’s favourite actor.
The town’s Pomegranate Theatre auditorium was packed on Sunday, May 12, for the return of Damian to the town’s stage after a 15-month absence - and he didn’t disappoint his loyal followers.
He gave a spellbinding performance in Tom Green’s play Being Tommy Cooper, working his magic on a role which see-sawed between a man at his happiest when entertaining the public and at his saddest in post-show drinking binges.
Magic tricks kept the mood light in the first half, with Damian using sleight of hand to amuse and amaze the audience, helped by eggs, cash and secret pockets. In true Tommy fashion, some of the magic routines were hopeless, others made you wonder just how he pulled them off.
The pivotal moment came just before the interval when the iconic treasure’s image was tarnished with the revelation that he hit his wife. A gasp from a spectator and a beautifully judged pregnant pause from Damian was followed by a flippant line about getting back to entertainment. Cooper’s cackling, slightly manic laugh accompanied Damian in his evocative exit from the stage for the interval.
Tormented by his demons, Tommy’s descent into drunkenness was dramatically portrayed in the second half, with outbursts at his manager and his PA. Like the character at its centre, the mood of the acts echoed the contrasts between the public and private lives of the comic star.
The setting was just perfect.....the gambling mecca of Las Vegas in 1954 in which Tommy was facing his first big failure as promoters pulled the plug on his live show. Played out against a backdrop of a fractured roulette wheel with a slot machine at the front of the stage, the play drew the audience into the sad world of an American gambler (played by Morgan Deare) hoping to sell his 26-edition joke collection to Tommy, the star’s dour Scottish manager played by Halcro Johnson) and Tommy’s glamorous PA and mistress (played by Rebecca Thorn).
The era was beautifully captured, from Tommy sending a telegram to his wife to the prescient line that television was going to be huge - it was, and relaunched Tommy’s career big style in the UK.
Metaphorically speaking, Being Tommy Cooper was a show in which Damian Williams pulled a rabbit from a hat....just like that.