John provides the Keyes to an astonishing translation

Review by Paul Nelson

The real Michael MacLiammoir


GASPS of surprise from the older members of the audience greeted the entrance of John Keyes in The Importance of Being Micheal at Wimbledon Studio Theatre. Not only does he look remarkably like the great Irish actor Micheal MacLiammoir, he sounds like him too and has perfected many of his mannerisms.

The result is eerily entertaining.

Keyes, was not only a fan but worked with the Gate Theatre Company which MacLiammoir co-founded with his partner Hilton Edwards.

MacLiammoir's real name was Willmore and he was English, The name MacLiammoir is therefore a straight translation into Irish, which Micheal learned to perfection. Indeed, I had heard he wrote his autobiographical books, there were three of them, in Irish and then translated them back into English as they gained a unique style through the method.

The recounting of the trials and setbacks of running a theatre company on a shoestring makes for great entertainment, providing many amusing moments as well as stark realism about the hardship. Living with piles of pennies by a payphone in the house because the telephone had been cut off for instance.

Their meeting and association with Orson Welles is documented, as well as a frank account of why they ultimately fell out with each other.

Welles is not the only luminary to cross their horizon. Anton Dolin, Noel Coward, Yeats, Lady Gregory, Maude Gonne, Edward and Christine Longford, all had a part to play, sometimes infinitesimal, sometimes major, in the formation of what became one of the most important theatre companies in the world.

Perhaps one of the greatest personality to figure in all this was the actor-manager Anew McMaster and his character is very finely drawn. McMaster was married to Marjorie, MacLiammoir's sister, and employed both MacLiammoir and Edwards on his tours, many of which played the Irish sticks. Their final plan together was to present Othello with McMaster in the lead and with MacLiammoir as Iago. This was not to happen due to the death of McMaster, an event which deeply moved MacLiammoir.

The life and times of this great eccentric and undoubted star makes a superb evening in the theatre. It is so full of entertaining anecdotes and fascinating facts that it is an evening well worth watching more than once.

It is currently on tour but I have great hopes it will return to the London Fringe. I am sure it will be welcomed again, as it was so heartily at the Studio, by its future audiences.

The Importance of Being Micheal written and performed by John Keyes. Produced by North Face Theatre Company. Designed by Johannes Schonnerr, Producer Phil Thompson, and Directed by Paddy Sculley.