The Importance of Being Michael

John Keyes

About the book…

Micheál mac Liammóir is the pivotal figure at the heart of modern Ireland.

Born in the dreary suburbs of Victorian London as plain Alfred Willmore, he fell intensely in love with Ireland and decided to reinvent himself as the flamboyant actor, playwright, and raconteur Micheál mac Liammóir. It was a persona which would embody - and slyly subvert - the public aspirations of the emergent nation.

Mac Liammóir brought to the fore the imaginative tensions of his time. Infatuated with the Celtic Twilight and a lifetime devotee of the Irish language, his work s an actor and founder of the groundbreaking Gate Theatre ushered in a vibrant continental sensibility previously unheard of in Ireland. A passionate Irish nationalist, he rejected the political and cultural isolationism of the 1930s and 40s.

In this remarkable one-man show, John Keyes bring to life this complex and dynamic figure.

Photo of the author, John Keyes

About the author…

John Keyes was born in Belfast in 1937. He joined the Group Theatre at the age of 15, becoming the youngest ever actor to appear on the Bedford Street stage. In 1995, he joined the legendary Shakespearean travelling theatre led by Ireland’s greatest Shakespearean actor, Anew McMaster. 

He then left Ireland in order to pursue an acting career in English rep. While in England he landed his most famous role as Sgt Derek Cooper in Dixon of Dock Green. Returning to Ireland in the 1970s, he – along with friend Roma Tomelty – formed 70s Productions – the first ever theatre in education project in Northern Ireland. 

As theatre collapsed during the onset of the troubles, Keyes was a familiar face on Ulster stages such as the Lyric and the Arts in both comedies and more serious fare. He also appeared in several films such as Shoot to Kill and Backdraft and was a regular on local television screens.

He was also the theatre reviewer for Fortnight magazine and edited two books for Lagan Press: Robert Harbinson: Selected Short Stories (1996) and Sam Thompson: Over the Bridge & Other Plays. He also wrote a ‘personal history’ of the Group and Arts Theatres: Going Dark (2002) and a one-man show based on the life of Michael Mac Liammoir, The Importance of Being Michael (2002). A major stroke ended curtailed his career.

He died in 2010.