Theatre runs in Twomey family

After a lifetime devoted to theatre and a career that saw him gain the freedom of Cork. Michael Twomey tells COLETTE SHERIDAN he is delighted to see his grandchildren taking to the stage
Theatre runs in Twomey family
Michael Twomey and Frank Duggan as 'Cha and Miah', pictured at their old haunt at the Marina in Cork.

THE theatrical gene in legendary Cork actor and director Michael Twomey’s family has come full circle after his granddaughter, Julie Twomey, recently played the role of Dot in John B Keane’s Many Young Men Of Twenty at the Everyman, as part of its 120 year celebrations.

Theatrical stalwart Michael, now in his eighties and possessing a sharp memory and a bank of stories, starred in the premiere of the play in 1961 in the Father Mathew Hall with the Southern Theatre Group.

In 1968, Michael’s wife, Marie, played the role of Kitty Curley in the play, followed by another production in the early 1970s when Marie played Seelie. Then, in 2006, Michael directed the play for the Everyman.

Michael, who has been a member of the Everyman board for more than 20 years and was its chairman last year, is very proud of his six grandchildren, three of whom are members of CADA Performing Arts.

As well as Julie, her sisters, Becky and Sarah, are carrying on the family tradition and the three of them have appeared in various CADA Performing Arts productions, including Cats and Les Miserables.

When asked what his legacy will be to Cork, Michael, who received the freedom of the city in 2016, references his theatre-loving grandchildren.

But he adds with a smile that he will probably be best remembered for his role in the comic duo, Chah and Miah. These two homespun philosopher characters regaled the nation when they performed a regular sketch on Hall’s Pictorial Weekly back in the 1970s on RTÉ Television.

It was Michael’s Belfast-born mother, a Shakespearean actress, who directed her son towards that performance. Mrs Twomey, living in the Mardyke, realised her son was developing such a strong Cork accent that she couldn’t understand him.

“So I was sent to what was then called elocution, which today is called speech and drama,” says Michael. “It was at the Cork School of Music where my teacher was James Stack. In his time, he was one of the foremost directors in the country.”

Michael excelled at the Feis and appeared in his first play, Eugene O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness in the old Cork Opera House when he was just 11 years of age.

“Amazingly, after that play, there wasn’t a single year when I wasn’t involved in theatre,” he adds.

There are many highlights in his long stage career — his day job was in the insurance business — and he is generous in acknowledging key figures that helped him along the way.

A pupil at Presentation Brothers, Michael joined the Presentation Theatre formed by Der Breen and Dan Donovan. “Dan was my guru. Most of what I know about acting, I learned from him.”

Michael joined the Cork Shakespearean Company under Fr O’Flynn. “His greatest lesson to me was to use naturalism on the stage. Shakespeare’s language may sound strange to the ordinary Joe Soap in the audience but if you are doing Shakespeare properly, everyone should be able to understand what’s going on.

“I learned the importance of being as natural as I could but I’ll never be as natural as Flor Dullea, who I looked up to.”

The first play Michael did with the Everyman Theatre Company was Luther in the CCYMS Hall on Castle Street. It was directed by John O’Shea.

“I did another play with John O’Shea which was my pride and joy. It was Quartermaine’s Terms and is about English teachers in Cambridge.

“Then I was asked to direct a play for the Everyman. I did my favourite, Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman. I directed Dan Donovan in that. Did he need direction, I asked myself. A great success, it was the only Everyman production that transferred to the Cork Opera House.”

When the Everyman Theatre Company took over the Palace building on MacCurtain Street, Michael did his first pantomime there in 1990, having done panto for the Cork Opera house for a couple of decades.

Michael and his crew did their second panto at the Everyman the following year but returned to the Opera house and did pantos there until 2000.

But he is most closely associated with the Everyman.

He says: “One of the things I love most in the Everyman is doing The Everyman Sunday Songbook with Linda Kenny and guests and directed by Cathal McCabe. I act as narrator, telling the stories behind the songs.

“We do it about four times a year and it always sells out.”

Michael recalls the artistic vision of set designer, Pat Murray, who devised a particularly stunning set for The Constant Wife which Michael directed at the Everyman.

He has fond memories of directing Paddy Comerford in Just Paddy at the venue. And Michael describes working with Declan Hassett on three of the writer’s plays “as a marvellous experience.” The plays were Up the Rebels, Survivors and Sisters starring Gerry McLoughlin.

“I worked with every major actor and entertainer in Cork,” adds Michael. “There was such a depth of talent there that we took for granted.

“Unfortunately, I think that wave of talent is now passing and I’m hoping that a new wave will emerge.

“Certainly, I see young directors coming up but otherwise, there’s not much.”

Michael describes himself as “a traditionalist” and adds: “I love the old form of plays with a proscenium arch, a curtain, a set and actors. That is still being done with great success in the West End.”

As for innovative local company, Corcadorca, Michael says it has “brought complete fresh air into the theatrical scene”.

But he is very much old school, steeped in tradition and delighted that his granddaughters are taking up the baton.

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