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Friday, August 14, 1998 Published at 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK

Not just for laughs

Show - Just Like That? Tommy Cooper - the early years
Venue - Gilded Balloon August 7 - 31

[ image:  ]
This is not a tribute to the late great Tommy Cooper but an examination of the relationship between the comic and his one-time double-act partner Frankie Lyons.

At the end of World War II, Cooper was a member of the Entertainments National Service Association otherwise known as ENSA.

Most of the acts were second division pub comics and amateur singers and actors. The famous wartime comedian Tommy Trinder dubbed the service, Every Night Something Awful.

[ image: Cooper proving popular in his early years]
Cooper proving popular in his early years
But Cooper was a hit from day one and it was decided by the commanding officers that it would be more appropriate that he had a comedy partner.

The play concerns the time between 1946 and 1947 when the pair were serving in Cairo, Egypt.

Their relationship which was not a happy one was short-lived, but it allows the audience to see the darkest hours of one of the legends of the British comedy establishment.

The two actors in the piece, James Henry Parker as Cooper and Adam Keast as Lyons are both accomplished performers.

[ image: Adam Keast an accomplished performer]
Adam Keast an accomplished performer
With a limited stage set they take you to Cairo and convey the conflict between a comedic original and a wannabee star.

The story starts with their meeting. From the beginning it was clear that Cooper wanted to be the main funny man and he was not keen on being part of a team.

His bullying and constant need for attention became too much for Lyons and in the end the partnership was dissolved.

The play's author Garry Lyons is the son of Frankie Lyons and it would have been easy to do a hatchet job on Britain's favourite magician-comedian. But the piece is a bittersweet portrayal of a man driven for success.

[ image: Parker has the famous Cooper laugh off to a tee]
Parker has the famous Cooper laugh off to a tee
Some of Cooper's best known magic tricks are included in the show and are admirably performed by James Henry Parker - who has the famous Cooper laugh off to a tee.

The only thing the show needed to make it an overwhelming success was an audience. Less than 30 people made up the house and you could tell the actors struggled to set the scene of a packed ENSA concert.

The play has just finished a three-month run and the Edinburgh Festival will be the last opportunity to see this remarkable piece of theatre with the current cast.
Gavin Yates

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