Earlier this year, Raymond Walsh was in the cast of Kiss Me, Kate in Belfast playing the role of Hortensio after finishing his run as Grantaire in Les Misérables: The Staged Concert at the Gielgud Theatre. Raymond previously played Grantaire at the Queen’s Theatre in Les Misérables, along with being first cover Thénardier, and he originated the role of Sean in the world premiere of Welsh musical My Land’s Shore in 2017. Besides acting, Raymond started the music group Shamrock Tenors in 2018, and they have recently released their debut single Grace, which reached number one in the iTunes World Music Charts. We chatted with Raymond about playing Hortensio in Kiss Me, Kate, his time in Les Misérables and originating the role of Sean in My Land’s Shore.
What was Hortensio like to play in Kiss Me, Kate in Belfast earlier this year?
It was a huge amount of fun! Kiss Me, Kate is such a great musical, with a lot of comedy to play with as well, so having come from two years of dying every night, it was nice to make it to the end of the show alive. My favourite number in the show is Tom, Dick or Harry so I felt very lucky to be able to sing and dance that number every night as Hortensio, without falling over, which is a major feat in itself. I must also mention that I made a show-stealing cameo as the General’s military assistant, Flynt, with his epic one-liner “Here, sir”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Was there anything that drew you to the role and production?
It was genuinely one of my favourite jobs that I’ve ever been lucky to be a part of. I’d always said that my dream was to work at the Lyric in Belfast and, when I got the Les Mis Concert, I did an interview with the Belfast Telegraph where I explained that that’s what I’d love to do next. Lo and behold, Fra Fee’s sister Clare, who works at the Lyric, read the article and recommended me to the casting director and then it all went from there. I did my first ever job with Fra so it just goes to show that the world is a very small place. I joked afterwards that I should say in my next interview that my dream is to win the Euromillions.
In terms of the production, the cast, production team and crew were absolutely incredible professionals to learn from and, more importantly, amazing people. There wasn’t a single moment of tension or friction between anyone, from rehearsals through to the last performance, and I can now count every one of them a friend for life. If anyone gets the chance to work at the Lyric, then I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Can you tell us about playing Grantaire in Les Misérables: The Staged Concert?
It was very much a pinch me moment every single night. I’d just come off the back of playing Grantaire for fourteen months at the Queen’s and when I heard about the concert I just couldn’t wait to go watch it as a fan. I’d grown up watching the 10th and 25th Anniversary, so to have the chance to see some of these performers in the flesh was very exciting. Then our resident director at the Queen’s, Sam Hiller, said to me in warm up one day to be expecting a phone call and lo and behold, my agent told me the offer had come through to play Grantaire in the concert. I couldn’t believe it then and even watching the film back I still can’t believe it now.
What was it like being part of this production and performing at the Gielgud Theatre?
It was insane. Every single night, when the overture started, you could hear the audience cheer like they were at a rock concert and this surge of adrenaline would run through you. The Gielgud is such a beautiful, and relatively intimate theatre, so you really felt like the audience were a part of it. Not to mention, the orchestra were sat on stage behind us, so you could literally see every audience member’s expression from the first few rows. Genuinely, the highlight of the show was watching the audience go on the journey with you. I was sat on stage from start to finish and you could follow them just as much as you could follow the actors. There was some really magical moments and you could see just how relevant the musical is to this day and how much it means to so many people. Thankfully, Les Mis is my favourite show so watching the entire thing every night for sixteen weeks wasn’t the worst.
The show was screened live to cinemas, how was the atmosphere at this performance and have you watched it back?
Yes, I went to see it in the cinemas the week after we performed it. The lady next to me turned to say how much she enjoyed it and then realised I was in it so I had another couple of people congratulate me after the screening as well which was surreal. In terms of the night itself, it is still very much a huge blur. From the minute you walked to stage door and saw all the trailers, you knew you were in for something special. The audience were absolutely electric and obviously it was an emotional night as we were saying goodbye to a lot of great friends, some that we had worked with for eighteen months. I don’t think we all realised what we had accomplished until a few days afterwards because the pressure was so high. Thankfully, the after-party more than helped everyone relax (ask Ciaran Bowling about that).
What was it like booking the role of Grantaire and first cover Thénardier in the original production of Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre?
I didn’t believe it at first. I’d moved back to Northern Ireland to start up the Shamrock Tenors and I’d just driven from London to Belfast, via a boat from Liverpool, with all my stuff packed into the back of my car. A week later, my agent called to say Les Mis wanted me to audition and so, after a few flights back and forth, I’d managed to get the job. Les Mis was the first show I ever watched when I was sixteen operating the spotlight so it was the entire reason I started musical theatre in the first place. I was in the gym with my brother Jack at the time when my agent rang me to tell me and I asked him to double check that they hadn’t made a mistake in the email with First Cover Thénardier but it turns out I look a lot rougher than I thought. I’ve decided that I need to go to the effort to move home more often if I want to get more jobs.
How different were both productions to be part of?
The concert version certainly had a lot less costume changes. After being part of the original I’m considering a career as a quick change act. That being said, because of that we had a lot more off-stage time in the original, and the boys’ quick change area was often where a lot of the real madness used to happen. In terms of the show itself, I think the real star of Les Mis is the music and lyrics so no matter what way it’s staged; concert, original, new production, student version, it will always still evoke a huge amount of emotion and move people.
You were part of the original cast of My Land’s Shore, can you tell us more about this?
My Land’s Shore is an original Welsh musical written by two incredibly talented guys named Kit Orton and Bob Gould. The show itself has been around for years and had a few workshops with some of the biggest names in musical theatre. I couldn’t actually believe that the production I was a part of was the world premiere as I had heard the music many years beforehand. The fact that it hasn’t been made on a much larger scale is a travesty as it is genuinely one the most amazing musical scores I’ve ever heard. It reminds me of Les Mis in terms of the trajectory of the story and the kind of emotions it elicits from the audience.
How was it originating the role of Sean in the World Premiere?
I absolutely loved being a part of this show. With a predominantly Welsh cast it was amazing to be part of a story that meant so much. My character was Irish, of course, because nobody needs to hear my Welsh accent. I sang a song called Air For a Wise Celtic Fool which is an absolutely beautiful Celtic number and I still use it to this day for all of my auditions. It was the song that I used for Les Mis so it will always hold a special place for me. Fingers crossed I get to come back to the show one day when it has the future life it very much deserves.
Towards the start of your career, you played Peter in the original cast of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, how was this?
This was a hugely enjoyable job. It was an original musical by Steven Luke Walker, who was Head of Singing at GSA, and, again, the music is ridiculously good. I always knew that Steven was a genius when it came to singing lessons but I only discovered he must be an alien when I read and listened to his musicals as well. C.S. Lewis is also a good Belfast boy so it was particularly special to be able to tell his story and be a part of that. The only downside to this job was my five o’clock shadow which meant that on two show days I had to shave twice. The boys used to call me Dame Dolly Walsh because of the amount of makeup I had to wear.
What do you enjoy most about being in a musical?
The fact that I never feel like I am working a day in my life. I absolutely love what I do and I think that if you do that, no matter what your chosen career path, you will always be happy. No two shows are ever the same so it keeps me on my toes!
Had you always wanted a stage career and what do you remember from booking your first professional role?
I originally wanted to be a professional footballer but that didn’t work out so the next obvious thing was Musical Theatre. No, I actually studied a degree in Communication, Advertising and Marketing as I didn’t have a drama department in school so never knew you could actually have a career in it unless you were really lucky and famous. It was only when I entered a competition in London and managed to win it that I thought that I was maybe alright at it and could give it a go.
My first job was a month after graduating in Howard Goodalls’ new musical, A Winter’s Tale. It was an amazing first job to get and had a ridiculously talented cast of actors involved so it was great to be a part of the ensemble and watch on and learn from these amazing people.
You are part of the Shamrock Tenors, can you tell us more about this?
Yes, the Shamrock Tenors is a group I started back in 2018 as a way to give some incredibly talented singers from home a platform to showcase their talents. I was incredibly fortunate to have the boys say yes because they are some of the most talented people you could ever hope to meet. We sing a lot of traditional Irish music, whilst adding in five-part harmonies. Our debut single recently went to number one on the iTunes World Music Charts so that was a pretty surreal achievement. Hopefully it’s not too long before we are all back together again.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I watch a lot of football, which has proven to be a godsend during lockdown. It’s like having the World Cup all over again. I’m also blessed to be surrounded by amazing family and friends so I do my best to spend time with all of them. I’ve also recently gotten into Call of Duty so my social life may be going down the drain.
Can you tell us about training at Guildford School of Acting?
GSA was one of the best years of my life. I was originally due to go to the Royal Academy of Music but when I went to visit my friend, Turlough (Grantaire in the recent BBC Les Misérables), in drama school I just fell in love with the town and the school. It was a lot less chaotic than London, and because I’m a country boy at heart, I felt it would be the better transition for me leaving home before moving into the big city. I made some real friends for life in that place so I will always cherish my time there.
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