Writer of New Play About Robin Williams Ranks His Top Five Performances
Three years on from the beloved actor's death, Kieron Magee's one-man show charts his meteoric rise from club comic to film icon
When news of Robin Williams' death by suicide emerged in August 2014, the world seemed to be knocked for six by the collective feeling of shock, sadness and bewilderment. How had such a treasured figure, one whose performances on stage and on screen enraptured generations and created countless happy memories, managed to go in such tragic fashion?
Williams was known for his substance-based struggles throughout his career having openly faced it in his stand-up, and health problems both mental and physical came to be more widely understood in the wake of his passing (in turn sparking a global conversation about depression and the inner darkness many contend with alone). Yet three years on many continue to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of it.
Northern Ireland playwright Kieron Magee is someone for whom the Oscar-winner meant a considerable amount to, and his new-one man show starring John Travers looks to recapture that 'little spark of madness' Williams insisted we don't ever lose. According to Magee, Robin Williams: The Laughter and the Tears 'is an emotional rollercoaster ride through the life of one of the most loved stars on the planet'. Without ignoring his alcohol and cocaine addictions, the play condenses the comedian and actor's journey from the club circuit to Hollywood's top table, incorporating some of his most famous roles along the way.
With tour dates in Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and Strabane still to come, we asked Magee what he considered to be Williams five greatest performances – no easy task with live comedy, timeless television and, of course, big screen classics all in contention...
Live at the Roxy (1978)
'There is no doubt that Robin Williams was a versatile actor and a king of comedy, but the reason this performance stands out from his other stand-up routines is because of the manic energy he displayed that night. The crowd roars with laughter at his frenzied antics, ad-libbing freely as he wades through them, even climbing up into the balcony seats where he perches and imitates Quasimodo. Even watching it today on YouTube it's hard not to be spellbound by this super-charged HBO special.'
Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
'For many his defining, most universally loved film role, here Williams memorably used his mercurial talent to play Daniel Hillard, a divorced father of three who impersonates a Scottish nanny in order to see his children. At the time the actor had gone through a break-up with his first wife Valerie Velardi and was sharing custody of his son Zak, so in some ways Mrs Doubtfire was surprisingly as raw for Williams as the topics of drugs and alcohol he tackled on stage.'
Good Will Hunting (1997)
'While not Williams' first dramatic outing, Good Will Hunting featured arguably his greatest. Playing the part of therapist Sean Maguire opposite Matt Damon's title character, Williams conjures what was at the time a seldom seen restrained performance that not once turns to his familiar theatrical horseplay to connect with the audience. Such was the depth and compassion of his portrayal that it managed to earn Williams his one and only Academy Award, despite three previous nods for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King.'
Dead Poets Society (1989)
'Speaking of which, number two on my list is the film which in fact led me to become an English teacher. Seeing Williams inspire a class of adolescents as John Keating, with his unorthodox methods and use of the Latin phrase 'carpe diem', I wanted to become just like him. Kind, intelligent and intuitive, it's no surprise this depiction saw him pick up his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor in as many years.'
Mork and Mindy (1978 - 1982)
'Long before Rick and Morty, there was another intergalatic TV duo called Mork and Mindy. Watched by a weekly audience of 65 million viewers, I grew up watching the zany shenanigans of Mork (Williams) as he sat on his head or drank a glass of water with his finger. Quirky, heartwarming and totally hilarious, I couldn't wait to watch each new episode every week. I especially loved the scenes at the end when Mork would talk to Orson whilst wearing his red Orcan spacesuit. Those scenes in particular made me laugh. So now, in true Mork fashion I will bid you a fond adieu: Nanu, Nanu!'
Robin Williams: The Laughter and the Tears comes to The Roddy's, Belfast on August 16 and 17 followed by Teac Jacks, Derrybeg, Donegal (August 25), the Waterside Theatre, Derry (September 1), the Alley Theatre, Strabane (September 2), the Garage Theatre, Monaghan (September 9) and the Waterfront, Belfast (September 30). For tickets visit the venue websites.