Most comedy depends on the impact of the surprise – Just Like That relies entirely on the familiar. Those who enjoyed this faithful Tommy Cooper tribute the most were also those who couldn’t help but join in with the time-weathered punchlines.
John Hewer captures the be-fezzed comic icon’s childish spirit. The throaty rasp, the haughty laughs at his own silliness, or the lumbering, ursine clumsiness that poleaxe any attempts at deft, stylish conjuring tricks.
That it is an impersonation necessarily puts some distance between the performer and the audience. We know that every mimicked guffaw has been practised in a way we are less likely to consider when watching a stand-up performing their own material. But if there’s one thing that’s certain about Cooper’s relentless parade of cheesy puns and contrived prop gags, it’s that they can wear down any resistance. Like his natural heir, Tim Vine, persistence and a chipper manner becomes infectious.
Hewer, of course, starts from a position of strength, too. No one is going to come to Just Like That if they are in any way uncertain about being a Tommy Cooper fan. His task, then, is to reawaken those memories… with the added difficulty of rose-tinted hindsight having filtered out any dud routines (and they do exist). This he does with an innocent charm that matches the original as closely as he follows Cooper’s cadences and script. Occasionally he even achieves what Cooper could famously do, and get a laugh without saying a thing; anticipation is enough.
There is little point in describing his family-friendly material: the corny wordplay or the displays of conjuring that teeter on the precipice of disaster until he pulls off an unexpected display of skill, or which, against the odds, actually work until he cloddishly reveals the mechanisms behind them. Needless to say, Hewer has been keeping the country’s prop-makers busy with visual gags – notably an end-of-the-pier rendition of Bob Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind that closes the first half.
This production, which has the blessing of the Cooper estate, does not attempt to consider anything about the comedian’s life, as recent plays and TV biopics have done, but simply to recreate the simple pleasures of his performance. Times have moved on, of course, and no one can ever recreate the peculiar alchemy that made Cooper a star. But if you fancy a trip down memory lane, then it’s money, ticket, ticket, money…. Just like that.
Review by Steve Bennett, published October 2014
BEYOND THE JOKE REVIEW
I arrived a little late for Just Like That! but I soon worked out what was going on. I had originally assumed that this was a revival of the play by John Fisher about Tommy Cooper’s life that ran in the West End a few years back. In fact it is a more straightforward trick-by-trick tribute to the comedian famous for his fumbling manner and his fez.
John Hewer, who is still in his twenties, does a very good impression of Cooper, rattling through the magic and patter with the kind of slickness that suggests he has watched a lot of videos and spent a lot of time in front of his mirror. I was going to say that this is a no-nonsense homage but there is, of course, plenty of nonsense as illusions repeatedly go wrong before eventually going right and then wrong again.
The classics are present and correct – bottle, glass, glass bottle, spoon, jar, jar spoon – and there are also a few set-pieces that I didn’t know about. I was unaware that this star of the dying days of vaudeville had covered Bob Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind – the gusty gag he plays with the song is very similar to the one I saw Cooper do on TV with the tune Autumn Leaves.
Just Like That! is very much a loving ode to this comic oddball. You can imagine this show going down a storm at the seaside in front of adults and kids every summer until Hewer is as old as Cooper was when he passed away.
Review by Bruce Dessau, published October 2014
ENTERTAINMENT SOUTH WALES
Caerphilly born comic, Tommy Cooper, is one of the all-time greats as far as comedy legends go. Its frequently remarked by his contemporaries that he could reduce a room of people to laughter by simply walking in.
It was quite uncanny therefore that John Hewer as Tommy Cooper stepping on to the Newport Riverfront stage earlier tonight, complete with suit and fez got three notable bouts of laughter from the audience before he said anything. When the laughter stopped, he began, “I can tell if an audience is going to be good or bad… Goodnight!”. The audience laughed more and the spirit of Tommy Cooper was well and truly back home in South Wales.
Rather than most touring tribute acts which attempt to tell potted biographical stories of much-loved comedy stars. Just Like That! hones in on Tommy Cooper’s furiously energetic and frequently chaotic comedy act. The prop-laden jokes may be familiar to the fans and the conjuring tricks performed may or may not go wrong, but like a well-worn video tape, you will know what to expect and it will still be as funny as the first time you saw it.
Many Cooper classics are in Just Like That! performed to magical perfection by John Hewer. The peeking duck card trick (yes, that’s peeking), the magic cloak that produces a step ladder and a death defying shoot a balloon over your shoulder stunt.
With strong support from Christopher Peters who supplies two fabulous musical interludes and acts as the stooge on several occasions Just Like That! is the ultimate tribute to a Welsh comedy great!
Review by Andy Howells, published in 2017
THE ALT-ENTERTAINER REVIEW
I am just about old enough to remember watching Live From Her Majesty’s on TV in April 1984. Tommy Cooper was performing his usual mix of seemingly inept magic and daft jokes. During his act, I remember that he started to sway a little and complain of feeling a bit funny. Believing it was part of his act, the audience roared with laughter, as did we watching at home. He stared as if incredulous at the audience, then he collapsed. And we still laughed, which sounds odd – and a bit heartless – thinking about it now, but Tommy Cooper wasn’t above playing up physical pain for laughs.
The next day, confirmation came that Cooper was pronounced dead at the hospital the previous evening. The country mourned a comic genius. Although there was something that looked incompetent and unpolished about his act, like Les Dawson’s off-key piano playing and Frankie Howerd’s ‘Ooh, no missus’ ad-libs, Cooper was a very accomplished magician; his tricks, timings and sleight of hand rehearsed down to the finest detail.
Thirty years since he passed away in the most show-business way possible, Hambledon Productions and the Museum of Comedy pay an affectionate tribute to the comedy legend. It is a testament to the longevity of Cooper’s reputation as a stellar comic that there was a good mix of ages and nationalities in the audience (I was sure I heard some Americans chatting away during the interval).
Many people have impersonated Tommy Cooper over the years, but it’s not enough to don a fez and say ‘not like that, like that’ with a West Country burr. It’s clear, however, that John Hewer (aka Tommy Cooper) has taken that impression to another level. In both Cooper’s voice and mannerisms, Hewer has more or less nailed it. Having done a run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Hewer has honed his routine beautifully – from Cooper’s exaggerated ‘ahem’, to the arms-out shoulder shuffle (technical terms, of course). There were brief occasions where the magic handiwork was close but not quite right, but it was evident overall that many, many hours had gone into practising the art of being Tommy Cooper.
Anyone familiar with watching Cooper’s act will surely recognise many of the tricks and jokes performed on stage. The audience were treated to tricks involving several plain and spotted handkerchiefs, the magic cloak out of which several unfeasibly large objects appeared, and – my personal favourite – spoon, jar, jar, spoon! Fans will also recognise jokes such as the Stradivarius and Rembrandt, a quite literal performance of Blowin’ In The Wind and a chaotic sketch involving multiple hats. There was witty musical accompaniment courtesy of Christopher Peters, who was also Cooper’s on-stage foil.
Review by Angela Williams, published November 2014
“So I went to the doctor; and he said I’m sorry Mr Cooper but you’ve got a serious illness; I said I want a second opinion; he said alright you’re ugly as well….” pure genius – a classic gag based on simple wordplay. Of course, different things make us laugh but some performers have universal appeal; the art of Tommy Cooper was never to offend or shock, but more to gently lean on our funny bone. He never touched race, religion, sex or politics; the joke was always on Tommy or the man/ woman who went to the doctor or walked into a pub. Therein lies the skill: comedy without barriers or labels. His act was simple but doesn’t sound remotely funny when you write it down; incompetent magician gets the trick wrong and tells a joke to cover it up. However, in the hands of Mr C it becomes a tour de force, a reminder of a more decent, straightforward era.
John Hewer is excellent in the title role, and whilst we could all do a Tommy Cooper impression, he’s picked up the nuances both obvious and subtle; the laugh; gauche, gawky strides across the stage, utter confusion when something goes wrong; maniacal delight when something goes right. In real life, Tommy was a respected member of the Magic Circle; and this is where John Hewer’s reading goes beyond parody, in order to get something so spectacularly wrong, you’ve first got to know how to get it right. He projects this essential truth to great effect; ‘yes, I’m playing the fool but I know exactly what I’m doing.’ It’s not about getting a trick wrong, anyone can do that; it’s about anticipation, using sleight of hand to cover the clanger waiting to happen. Similarly, gags are delivered at a furious pace and you’ve probably heard them all before, but like any old gag, if the timing and delivery is right it can still be funny.
There’s something comforting in nostalgia and all the usual routines are present and correct. Christopher Peters provided a useful foil for John Hewer, and contributed two sharp songs on the piano that were reminiscent of Noel Coward in his prime. This probably won’t mean a thing to anyone under the age of thirty and betrays the limited appeal of this show. Tommy Cooper was a man of his time, a creation from the dying days of old style music hall. Growing up in the Seventies, my memories of Tommy Cooper are restricted to TV when light entertainment was king and Morecambe & Wise, the Two Ronnies and Benny Hill fought for our affections. Tommy Cooper was truly a legend, but feel his catchment area will only ever be the over 40s, in other words, those old enough to remember him as an active performer. Subsequent generations may find this type of humour corny, fed as we are on a diet of explicit, foul mouthed stand up comedy; but funny is funny; the same way Tommy Cooper was a very funny man.
Review by Brian Penn, published October 2014
BROADWAY BABY REVIEW
With the blessing of the Cooper Estate, John Hewer takes to the stage in the guise of one of Britain’s most loved comedians. This is a nostalgic recreation of some of the best of Cooper’s madcap tomfoolery, and for that it delivers on every one of its promises.
Chances are, if you’re not old enough to appreciate Tommy Cooper when he was alive, you might find this style of magi-comedy a tad unsophisticated. Cooper was the master of the failed trick, elaborately eggy prop gag and cheesiest of one-liners. But it was all about the ability to reduce an audience to hysterics with a single look. Hewer, in this toughest of challenges, performs admirably. The mannerisms have clearly been carefully practiced and every glance rehearsed over and over to produce a highly authentic portrayal.
Normally in a stand up performance you hope that you’re not hearing old jokes, but here the opposite it true. Like a bunch of ageing fans at a reunion concert, we were all hoping to see familiar material, the punchlines excruciatingly anticipated long before their delivery.
Hewer is assisted by pianist-cum-famulus Christopher Peters; a stooge for most of the show, but not without flashing his own talent by singing Joyce The Librarian – Flanders & Swann style – as an interlude and accompanying Hewer stumble through We’ll Meet Againat the finale. As a love letter to Tommy Cooper, Just Like That is sealed with a loving kiss. And a prop gag.
Review by Pete Shaw, published July 2015
THE REVIEWS HUB REVIEW
Still remembered affectionately by many as a bumbling, feckless, fez wearing comedian, (who famously died on stage during the middle of his act on live television), Tommy Cooper was a rare breed of comedian, a true comic genius, whose influence on generations of comedians can still be seen today. A genuinely funny man both on and off stage, like most comedians of his era, Tommy Cooper’s career was blighted by problems with his health and private life.
Cooper is portrayed by the young actor, John Hewer, who has also devised the show, which is made up entirely of the best of Copper’s magic routines, interspersed with gags and some very funny shaggy dog stories. Hewer brilliantly captures the comics well known mannerisms and although he must be at least thirty years younger than Cooper was in his prime, does an exceptional job in making you believe that for an instant you are watching the real man himself.
The show must feature at least thirty individual magic tricks, which probably require more time to set up than its actual running time. Hewer expertly recreates Cooper’s hap hazard, misfiring magic, which of course was an excellent smoke screen to disguise what an accomplished magician he really was. Of the magic tricks that Hewer recreates the most spectacular are the disappearing jug of milk into a rolled up newspaper and the expertly performed and very funny multiplying beer bottle and glass routine. Hewer also has a lot of fun recreating Cooper’s giant playing card disappearing and reappearing numbers trick. A well as being a gifted performer, with spot on comic timing, Hewer also proves to be an excellent sleight of hand magician.
With his deadpan delivery, Cooper was the comedian’s ultimate comic and this show clearly demonstrates why, although his gags are as old as the hills, they are still profoundly funny, of the ones included in this show, the jokes that raised the biggest laughs were, “I sold my wife for a car, it was a good swap,” and “I asked a librarian if she kept books on pigmies and she said no, we keep them on shelves.” During this affectionate tribute, Hewer is joined on stage by Christopher Peters as Cooper’s accompanist and magic assistant. Peters is given a few minutes on his own to shine, (no doubt to give Hewer a much needed rest), and uses this time to his full advantage to sing Peter Skellern and Richard Stilgoe’s amusing ditty, Joyce the librarian. Nostalgia is firmly at the heart of this show, which concludes with a rousing rendition of the Morecambe and Wise’s classic, ‘Positive Thinking.’
Review by Richard Hall, published July 2016
BUXTON FRINGE REVIEW
This show was a must-watch for me. I have many fond memories of sitting in front of the TV with my father, watching the comedy genius that was Tommy Cooper and straining to hear his rapid patter over my dad’s guffaws which often ended in coughing fits. I was one of the millions who watched, stunned, when he collapsed in a live TV performance over 30 years ago and was devastated to learn that I would never be able to watch the great man in person. So it was with curiosity that I entered the dark confines of the Underground Venue to see whether John Hewer could honour Cooper’s legacy.
On first impression, Hewer bares little resemblance to the iconic comedian, apart from the bow tie and the trademark fez. However, with a cheeky side-glance here, a shrug and a throaty cackle there, he morphs into Tommy Cooper, probably the result of spending many hours watching old footage and practising his craft in front of the mirror.
It is a jam-packed show and fans of Cooper will not be disappointed. All the favourites are there, including the magic tricks ‘spoon jar, jar spoon’, ‘bottle glass, glass bottle’, and ‘white hanky, white spots’, as well as a glut of the familiar jokes involving ‘the wife’ and trips to the doctor.
There was obvious warmth and affection from the audience for this well-known material and the frisson of excitement was palpable when a particularly loved pun was anticipated. Hewer built on this and formed a camaraderie through well-timed eye contact and engagement with the audience.
There was also a lot of content which was new to me, all delivered in the same quick-fire style and impeccable timing. Hewer was not thrown by a few instances of footsteps crossing the floor above and seamlessly incorporated them into the act with a few quizzical looks.
Hewer had solid support from Christopher Peters, who lent musical accompaniment and provided a musical interlude of a comic ditty in his dulcet tones. He also supplied not-so-subtle assistance to some of the magic tricks, thereby adding to their farcical delivery.
Obviously, nobody can perform Tommy Cooper as well as Cooper himself, but John Hewer does an excellent job at reminding us what we all miss about this comic icon.
BLACK DIAMOND FM REVIEW
I remember my mum trying to convince me years ago to sit down and watch a best of Tommy Cooper show on television, I thought I was ‘far to cool’ to watch it….I was wrong. I watched in stitches as magician in a fez attempted to cook a duck, pull an ever growing selection of goods from his cloak while making some of the most hilariously bad puns I had ever heard.
Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show is a compilation of the late magicians finest and most recognisable work along with some material not seen before. Expect the cheesiest of puns along with some magic incantations that make no sense to human ears. I spotted some younger people in the audience who I thought may not get the fast delivery, whirlwind of jokes and visual gags but by the end of the show they were all won over.
John Hewer does a great job as the fez wearing conjurer, no one can rival the original but this is the closest you are going to get to seeing Tommy Cooper on stage.
Review by Chris Mackrell, published August 2014
MANCHESTER THEATRE AWARDS REVIEW
John Hewer have devised Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show: a celebration of the late comedian / magician that transcends the easy option and never becomes a straightforward tribute act. Although full of jokes crowd-pleasing gimmicks are avoided – Cooper’s catch praise is used only once.
The show is structured in the manner of Cooper’s live theatre act. Poker-faced pianist Christopher Peters provides musical backing and, ahem, technical support that ensures very few of the tricks go smoothly. In the style of the old music halls Peters even gets to sing a saucy little ditty at the mid-point of the show.
John Hewer plays the part of Tommy Cooper. This is not a biography so there is no hint of the star’s complex lifestyle with marital infidelity and a drink problem. Cooper died with his boots on and Hewer definitely catches the sense of a born performer who is completely at home on stage. Hewer recreates perfectly the dry bark of Cooper’s speaking voice and his clumsy shambling body language.
Many patrons will already be familiar with Cooper’s routines from television performances but the show gives the chance to appreciate the skilful way that the act builds to a climax. After a series of misfiring magic tricks each act finishes with Hewer pulling off a complex trick perfectly with a casual air as if nothing much has happened. Throughout the show Hewer maintains a steady patter of truly awful jokes that, tonight at least, seem wonderfully funny and serve as a reminder of just how good Tommy Cooper was at his craft.
Review by David Cunningham, published July 2016
MONKEY MATTERS THEATRE REVIEW
Whatever I’d expected on entering the Museum of Comedy to see a tribute to Tommy Cooper, it wasn’t tipsy pensioners heckling the main act. Hewer channels Cooper’s charm to have us laughing out loud at corny jokes you see coming a mile off and a repertoire of magic tricks that keep going wrong. There’s an hilarious rendition of Blowing in the Wind and some great visual gags from spoon-jar-jar-spoon to the emergence of a long beam of wood, and then a ladder, from inside his magic cloak.
Those who remember Cooper – and the older audience clearly did, literally whooping with laughter, interjecting loudly, and generally misbehaving – will enjoy the opportunity to relive classic moments from Cooper’s acts. Even the children there seemed to get some mileage from it – the jokes (remember the one about the dead cat?) are framed for infantile pleasure amongst infants too. Hewer performs with true affection, which is more than enough to carry us along, and is accompanied on the piano by Christopher Peters looking like an extra from a 1950s cabaret act. It’s a fun couple of hours.
Review by Shyama Perera, published December 2014
LOUTH LEADER REVIEW
The last time I saw the talented John Hewer on stage, it was in the persona of the endearingly enduring Tony Hancock. With this memory still imprinted on my brain, I was intrigued to see what he would do with the sitcom legend’s polar opposite, Tommy Cooper. Setting the standard so high might have made ‘the lad himself’ impossible to top. I needn’t have worried.
Physically, John Hewer bears a very handy resemblance to his comic idol. Younger, yes, but like Tommy Cooper, Hewer is 6 feet something with black hair. Well, if the fez fits, wear it – but filling the shoes of this quintessentially British and yet internationally-popular comic genius involves quite a bite more than that. Has Hewer got what it takes? Oh yes.
In true Cooperesque fashion, the evening was a fiesta of two-liners, visual gags and, of course, magic. It was not only fans and aficionados in the audience who were rocking in their seats at Hewer’s delivery of the corny-but-clever wordplay and physical humour. He has picked so many old favourites and the material is good, clean fun – unadulterated and un-adult – so it has really broad appeal. Between jokes, the audience was fed snippets from the big man’s chest of wisdom. For example, who would have guessed that hypnotism has nothing to do with the mind? It is from the hips. Obvious really.
I was wondering beforehand how a Lincolnshire Lad like John Hewer would sound because Cooper’s Devonshire burr and distinctive slur were the flourish on the ‘Mad Magician’s complex vocal signature. Well, it was as near as dammit to my ear and I’m picky! But, for me, the fascination was his ability to hold the audience with just a look. With a lift of the eyebrows, a double-take or a glance thrown over the shoulder, he really captured – and bottled – the essence of Tommy Cooper.
I must mention Christopher Peters who provided the musical interludes and was quite wonderful. On keyboard and giving excellent voice to the witty song-writing of Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern, he also accompanied one or two of John Hewer’s physical comedy pieces.
The entire Hambledon Productions team did a marvellous job, supporting the evening of ‘Magic, Music and Mirth’, as it is very accurately billed, not least the Props Department integral to the tricks and illusions. Faithfully reproduced props such as – but no, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say, “Otologaquaphida fui!” (or something similar) and the item was there in Technicolor.
Review by Helen Appleton, Louth Leader, 2014
NORTH DEVON JOURNAL REVIEW
Hambledon Productions have been allowed by Tommy Cooper’s estate to create and tour this tribute show. I confess I was not a particular Tommy Cooper fan, I am, perhaps, just slightly too young to have been his target audience, but this seems to be a faithful reproduction of the material.
The show is an homage to Tommy, with one joke and silly gag, and failed magic trick following another. John Hewer faithfully reproduces the trademark mannerisms, the guffaw, the tics and lumbering gait to a tee.
The show is fast paced with an excellent musical interlude, which naturally gives the piece a sense of being in two halves. Whether you are already a fan of Tommy Cooper or a newcomer to this material there is plenty to enjoy.
John Hewer is clearly a Tommy Cooper fan and does justice to his hero. This is exactly what it advertises itself as, “the perfect celebration of Britain’s favourite comedian”.
Review by Nicola Cockell, published June 2016