Cork actor who had lifelong affair with theatre

Michael Twomey obituary: Born February 21st, 1933 – Died August 16th, 2017

Frank Duggan  and Michael Twomey,  who played Cha and Miah in Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Frank Duggan and Michael Twomey, who played Cha and Miah in Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

When he was 11 years old, Cork actor Michael Twomey, who has died of cancer at the age of 84, made his debut on the stage. So began a lifelong love affair with the theatre. The play was Eugene O’Neill’s Ah! Wilderness, the venue the old Cork Opera House and the year 1944.

Astonishingly, two years ago at the age of 82, the veteran actor bridged the generation gap, playing to full houses at the Everyman Palace Theatre in the lead role of Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham’s The Outgoing Tide, a sensitive treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

It was in another local theatre, the long defunct Loft, that he met his future wife, Marie, in Shakespeare’s As You like It. She played Rosalind to his Orlando and they continued acting together on the stage for many years. A truly versatile actor, equally comfortable in Shakespeare or Christmas pantomimes, he was also an accomplished writer, director and producer.

In 1959, he toured with newly founded Southern Theatre Group in John B Keane’s Sive. Actor and playwright had the highest regard for each other and the relationship between them blossomed. In Sive, Twomey played the tinker Carthalawn whose heartrending song to the beat of a bodhrán goes to the heart of the play.

Following that role, he played a string of important parts which flowed from the Kerry master’s pen, including The Field and Many Young Men Of Twenty. When the latter play was put on at the Everyman earlier this year, his granddaughter Julie played Dot, of which he was immensely proud.

He has presented theatrical material relating to the relationship with John B to Cork City Library some of which can be accessed through its webpage. He also organised four highly popular theme nights a year at the Everyman Theatre, based on a medley of songs by a chosen singer. He had already arranged the next one, for December 10th, on Vera Lynn. Coincidentally, his granddaughter Julie will sing that night.

Cha and Miah

Above all, perhaps, he was best known and loved by the nation for his role as half of Cha and Miah in RTÉ’s disrespectful and hilarious satirical series Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. Wearing an old mac and perennial scarf, battered cap and scuffed shoes, Twomey played Miah, the quintessential pub philosopher. His counterpart Cha was played by Frank Duggan, a friend and colleague from the insurance business, who attended his funeral.

Keeping the whole nation royally entertained, it ran from 1969 to 1981. To begin with, Frank Hall would send a script which Twomey would then alter subtly to take account of Cork wit. Eventually, Hall would send him the bones of an idea and he would write the script himself.

Born in Cork, he grew up on the Mardyke and walked the short distance to school at Presentation College where an inspired teacher, Dan Donovan, introduced him to drama. His mother Kathleen, who had acted herself, also encouraged him.

In 2013, Twomey received the Freedom of Cork City for “his unwavering lifetime contribution to professional and amateur theatre, arts, drama and song”. Tribute was also paid to his generosity in supporting the development of emerging talent in Cork. Frank Duggan and fellow entertainer Billa O’Connell were awarded the Freedom of Cork on the same day.

Fellow actor Pat Fenton recalls “meeting him when he retired from his professional career as director of an insurance brokerage firm and expressing the hope that he would enjoy many years of relaxation. His response was “there is a lot more theatre to do yet”. And so there was – almost 20 years more.

He is survived by his wife Marie, son Des, daughters Laura and Sharon and grandchildren.