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Glass Chair Chair Glass

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Jon Aird | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 14 September 2011

This Sunday on Radio 3, Russ Abbot stars in a play that imagines a day when Tommy Cooper met absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco.

Russ Abott wearing a Fez

Russ Abbott

Writer Annie Caulfield tells us how this came about...

I remember my parents laughing at Tommy Cooper when I was a kid. I didn’t like him. I was a grumpy, pedantic sort of child and had to leave the room he made me so cross; “But he’s not doing those tricks properly. We had a much better magician at the Christmas party, why doesn’t he do them properly?”

This dull streak carried on into being a student. I didn’t like Ionesco’s absurd plays; people coming in and out talking nonsense, turning into animals and talking some more nonsense… I liked gritty. Doc Marten wearing plays with lots of political shoutyness.

Maybe I got hit on the head but at some point I realised that I just had to look at Tommy Cooper and laugh. I saw a production of Ionesco’s Chairs and realised that not only was it funny, life was pretty much like that- people coming in and out talking nonsense, turning into animals and talking some more nonsense.

So when producer Gordon Kennedy told me there was a rumour Tommy Cooper and Eugene Ionesco once met it was like a perfect storm.

When the play was commissioned, director Marilyn Imrie bought me a very nice fez. No one ever picks it up and asks if I’ve been to Turkey – they start doing a bad Tommy Cooper impression. People who’ve never seen his act recognise Tommy Cooper from the worst possible impressions; that’s how famous he is.

Tommy Cooper

Tommy Cooper

When Russ Abbot signed up to play Tommy Cooper and I got to pester him for Tommy Cooper anecdotes it felt very strange. If I’d still been that humourless kid, it would have been like meeting someone who really knew Father Christmas.

Recording the play was difficult because along with Russ there was Alan Cordunner as Ionesco and they became an instant double act; Harriet Walter and Emily Bruni formed another instant comedy act and Hugh Ross had this deadpan delivery – everyone was making everyone laugh to the point of lying helpless on the floor. This made it hard for them to reach the mikes and hold their scripts.

The kid me would have thought they were all being very silly. This me thinks they were brilliant.

Glass Chair Chair Glass, Sunday 18th September 8.30pm Radio 3
Produced by Gordon Kennedy for Absolutely Productions



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