Michael Twomey: ‘One of the great theatre figures in Ireland — he had no equal’

Warm tributes have been paid to theatre giant Michael Twomey — one half of the legendary comedy duo Cha and Miah — who died yesterday aged 84.

Denis McSweeney, chairman of the board of the Everyman Theatre, said Cork and Ireland has lost a cultural giant.

“For over 70 years, Michael ‘bestrode the stage like a colossus’, from a young Hamlet with the Loft, the Cork Shakespearean Company, to Miah in the famous double act, Cha and Miah, and on television in Hall’s Pictorial Weekly,” he said.

“Michael was a consummate theatre man. He wrote, produced, directed, narrated, adjudicated and acted, as well as being a guide, mentor and champion of those making their early ways in theatre.”

Mr Twomey first appeared on stage at the old Opera House at the age of 11, in 1944, but shot to national prominence with Frank Duggan as Cha and Miah in 1969. They held a regular slot on Hall’s Pictorial Weekly TV show until 1972. He made his last appearance as part of Cha and Miah in 2012.

Mr McSweeney said Mr Twomey’s associations ranged from Pres Theatre Guild with his lifelong friend, Dan Donovan, and Der Breen to the Southern Theatre Group with James N Healy, and that he worked closely with John B Keane.

“Michael met the love of his life, Marie, another consummate actor, while both playing in As You Like It with the Loft,” he said.

“His family continues the tradition which Michael inherited from his mother - his granddaughter, Julie, appeared in our recent production of Many Young Men of Twenty.

“Michael was hugely respected all over Ireland and was keenly and widely sought at drama festivals as an honest but never unkind adjudicator.

“He was the most valued elder statesmen for those of us privileged to serve with him. Our loss can never equal that of Marie and his family to whom we convey our deepest sympathy.”

Chairman of the board of Cork Opera House, Damian Wallace, described him as “an institution” who is fondly remembered by all he worked with in Cork Opera House.

“He was such a talented performer and an inspiration to the many who followed him,” he said.

Former Lord Mayor, Cllr John Buttimer, who in 2013 conferred the Freedom of the Cork on Mr Twomey, Mr Duggan, and fellow comedy legend, Billa O’Connell — the first time in the history of the local authority that three people were made freemen of the city at the same time — said the city has lost a legend.

“Michael was a true legend of the theatrical life of Cork and he played a significant role in the artistic and cultural development of the city,” he said.

“He has left a legacy of work and talent he has mentored and developed over the years. There was a lot more depth to Michael than portrayed in his character, Miah.

“His contribution to theatre in his native Cork was immense, not least his production of the Summer Revels for 21-years.

“He was also acutely aware of the role of theatre in society, and of the role of satire in particular, and of its subversive role in politics.

“He will be a huge loss to his family, and to the city.”

Billa O’Connell, who worked with Mr Twomey for 33 years in various theatre and pantomime roles, including the Summer Revels, said he was a “gifted actor and producer, and gentlemen to his fingertips”.

“He was one of the great theatre figures in Ireland —he had no equal,” he said.

“He had a knowledge and an insight about stage craft and show business.

“I’d have a role with dozens of pages of script, and after the first few performances, he’d take me aside and say ‘change this word, or that word’, and that small change made all the difference.

“He was a great man, and he will be sadly missed.”

Julie Kelleher, who was appointed artistic director of the Everyman in 2014, when Mr Twomey was a member of its board, said he was a joy to work with.

 

“He brought fierce intelligence to the board, and questioned things intelligently,” she said.

“As well as his interest in the artistic side, he had a keen business sense too, and that was really valuable to us.

“He had great empathy for the work we had to do, and his dedication to his role on the board was immense.

“I don’t think he missed a board meeting until his illness.

“He really loved the place. It meant a huge deal to him.”

Conor Keane, son of the late playwright John B Keane, described Mr Twomey as “a true giant” of Irish theatre.

“John B Keane was simply mad about Michael Twomey as a man and as an actor,” he said.

“Michael played in the first productions of at least six of John B Keane’s plays, including Many Young Men of Twenty, The Year of the Hiker, Sharon’s Grave and The Man from Clare, setting an impossibly high standard for those that followed in his footsteps.

“His talent was immense and no part was too big or too small for him as he was the true ensemble actor.”

Soprano Linda Kenny first worked with Mr Twomey 25 years ago, but for the last 14 years, she worked very closely on their Everyman Sunday Songbook series.

“He was such an integral part of the success of those concerts. The audience adored him,” she said.

“He was part of the family and we became so close over the years, that I feel like I’ve lost a family member.”

She paid tribute to his courage and dignity as he battled cancer while they toured a 1916 tribute show last year.

“We travelled all over Cork with the show, and even though he was unwell, he was a consummate professional. He fought so hard through his illness. He is irreplaceable and will be mourned all over the country.”


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