ACTORS never retire, they just die away,” says Cork theatrical stalwart Michael Twomey, who at 82 shows no sign of slowing down.
Twomey stars in The Outgoing Tide which deals with the difficult subject of Alzheimer’s disease. Written by American playwright Bruce Graham, the play is about a family facing a crisis. The father, played by Twomey, has the early stages of the disease.
“He comes up with an unorthodox scheme to make sure his wife and son will be well looked after,” says Twomey, who adds that despite the subject matter, the play is written with a light touch and flashes of humour.
It is also about the strained relationship between the father and his grown-up son which is beginning to heal.
Twomey has been entertaining audiences for decades, both on the stage and on RTÉ Television where he was one half of the comedy duo, ‘Chah and Miah’ on Hall’s Pictorial Weekly in the ’70s. He made his stage debut at the age of 11 in the old Cork Opera House in Ah! Wilderness by Eugene O’Neill.
An adjudicator for the amateur drama circuit choosing which plays make it to the annual All Ireland Amateur Drama Festival in Athlone, Twomey says when he sees “young people coming up with new ideas and new approaches, it makes you feel old-fashioned.”
Twomey says one of the barometers of the state of theatre is the amateur groups around the country. “There are more than 300 such groups and every year, there are 35 drama festivals, all leading to the All Ireland Drama Festival. Night after night, you’re looking at productions that are often of a professional standard. This is keeping theatre alive in non-urban areas. The people who run the festivals also organise drama schools during the summer where people learn about stage craft, directing and acting. The standard of amateur drama has gone way up. A lot of professional theatres are drawing players from the amateur circuit.”
While Twomey has previously described himself as “an old fogey” who is conservative about the types of plays he likes, he is open to newer approaches. “Any form of theatre is good. Rather than having everyone sitting down inside a theatre, you can bring them into a warehouse, which is fantastic.”
Theatre is alive and well, he says. “I think theatre at the moment is enjoying a renaissance, something that happens during and after a recession. Here in Cork at the Everyman, Julie Kelleher is doing great work, having directed Lovers this summer as well as The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart which was experimental. Then there was The Lonesome West at the Everyman. I like the work of Martin McDonagh. He’s a great writer and is able to deal with the most morbid subjects with such a sense of humour. He reminds me in a sense of John B Keane.”
Twomey, who also directs plays, says the approach of young director, Killian Collins, to The Outgoing Tide is different to his own directorial style. “Killian gives the actors their head. He doesn’t impose his interpretation on you. The blocking happens almost naturally. In my days as a director, I was inclined to impose interpretations on the cast. Now, directors allow the cast their head as long as it fits into their overall picture of the play. But real stage technique will never change.”
The Outgoing Tide is at the Everyman from September 9- 17
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