In 2019, Ciaran Joyce was cast as Joly in Les Misérables: The Staged Concert at the Gielgud Theatre, where he also performed in the live screened show which was broadcast in cinemas around the UK, Ireland and the US and has since been released on DVD. Previously, Ciaran had played Montparnasse in Les Misérables in London and on the International Tour, and whilst in the production he also covered the roles of Marius and Grantaire. Amongst his other stage roles, Ciaran played Gibbs in Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse, Nicholas Beckett in What the Butler Saw, and toured the US as Peter in Peter Pan. Ciaran has previously worked on CBBC playing Lol in The Story of Tracy Beaker across four series, along with playing Boris in Young Dracula and he was also a presenter on the CBBC channel with his Tracy Beaker co-star Ben Hanson. Talking to Ciaran, he tells us about playing Joly in Les Misérables: The Staged Concert, his time in Les Misérables in London and on the International Tour and playing Lol in The Story of Tracy Beaker.
With Les Misérables: The Staged Concert having a run at the Gielgud Theatre in 2019, you were cast as Joly, what was it like being part of the show and performing in the role?
That was a real pinch me moment because I was part of the Les Misérables generation. The 10th Anniversary came out when I was around eight or nine and I remember having the VHS and watching it over and over and being swept up by the Les Mis fandom. I ended up being a real Les Mis fanboy! I’ve not got a crazy love of musical theatre as a whole, I don’t dislike it, but I’m not as into it as some musical theatre actors, but I did always want to be in Les Mis. Being cast in it, along with actors who had already been in the show and were so incredible in their roles at the Queen’s or elsewhere, was a real privilege. I’d watched Michael Ball when I was a kid over and over on the VHS and then shoot forward twenty years and I was stood next to him singing One Day More, which was pretty surreal, to be honest, but also really fulfilling and special.
The show announced an extra performance which was broadcast live to cinemas across the UK, Ireland and the US, how was the experience having the show recorded?
Terrifying, but in the best way possible! I personally get nervous for our opening and closing nights, and the reason I get nervous for the closing night is because that’s the last chance you get to do it. The best thing about theatre is if you don’t execute something in a performance that’s as good as you’d like to, you can rectify that in the next show, whereas with a last performance you want to do it justice and go out with a perfect show. That coupled with it being broadcast to the country was pretty terrifying! I loved it though. I think the last audience was pretty much invitation only so they were all completely on our side. Like before, it was a real pinch me and surreal moment because I was such a Les Mis fanboy and I’d grown up watching Les Mis icons and then I was going to be on a broadcast, which was incredible.
I am unbelievably grateful to be a part of it. It was fantastic stepping on stage knowing that I had friends in the theatre watching, and family and friends all over the country watching it in different cinemas. I was getting lots of messages in the interval! It was absolutely unbelievable and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
You’d previously played Montparnasse in London and on the International Tour, can you tell us about your time in the shows and what did you enjoy most about each?
Montparnasse is a great character. He’s not in the show a lot but Victor Hugo has some beautiful eloquent descriptions of him in the book so there’s loads you can do with that when it’s a long-running show as you can always go back to freshen it up.
The best thing about being on the International Tour is that we took the show to countries it had never been to. We went to Manila in the Philippines and the show had never played there so there was a bit of pressure taking it to people that had only seen it online or had heard the CDs and had been waiting to see it for maybe thirty years, but it was incredible. Getting to work on an incredible production and being able to see the world was an amazing experience.
I always wanted to do the original production, and getting to do the show in London was incredibly special. It was also such an honour because Les Mis in London is the epitome of standing on the shoulders of giants… some incredible people have come and gone through that show so you kind of take the baton off them when you get cast in it.
I will never forget walking down Shaftesbury Avenue on the first morning we were working in the theatre. It was a beautiful morning and Shaftesbury Avenue was a little quieter than normal and I remember seeing the Cosette image on the side of the Queen’s Theatre and just getting all giddy knowing that was my place of work. It was absolutely incredible.
Whilst in Les Misérables, you also covered the roles of Marius and Grantaire, what were these like to cover?
Scary. I think it’s always scary being an understudy. Having watched Michael Ball do it when I was growing up was quite surreal. Not a lot changes in terms of design in commercial theatre shows so the stage, set and costumes stay the same. I’d watched him for all these years in the black suit that Marius wore in the original production and then, all of a sudden, I go on one night as Marius, I look in the mirror and I’m dressed as the Michael Ball I’d watched over and over. That was another amazing, surreal and pinch me moment. I had the leaflets and book in my hands that Marius comes running on with and was just thinking, ‘I get to do this in the West End on a Saturday night… what is life?’. It was fantastic. The company was so supportive and I had some wonderful Cosettes, Eponines and Valjeans that I got to play opposite, who are so brilliant at what they do.
Grantaire is my other favourite character. I never thought in a month of Sundays that I would even get cast as the cover, so getting do that was fantastic. I like to think I’m quite a spontaneous, in the moment actor, and there’s a lot of freedom with Grantaire and our resident and associate directors always said to go further and I thought that was amazing. It was fun and brilliant. I got very lucky being able to play Grantaire and I had a great time.
Do you have any favourite highlights from your time involved with the Les Misérables productions?
The live cinema recording was amazing. A moment I’ll never forget is the initial call from my agent saying I’d got the role after I’d wanted to be in the show since I was eleven or twelve. Another was getting to fly to the Philippines. Also, the last night at the Queen’s Theatre when we closed the original John Caird and Trevor Nunn production that had been running since 1985. What an honour and a privilege to be in the last cast to ever do that. I’ll never forget that night when we were on stage getting ready to go and John Caird came on and grouped everybody together and made a beautiful speech. As he was leaving, he said, “guys, do me a favour – don’t fuck it up”, which I thought was a brilliant tension easer. Closing the original production at the Queen’s is probably the big one because all the audience were friends, family or people who love the show. It was a real historic moment and to get to be a part of that was incredibly special.
You played Gibbs in Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse, can you say more about this?
That was probably, in terms of artistic fulfillments, the best job I’ve ever done. We had an incredible director – Matt Ryan – who is still a dear friend of mine and it was a wicked group of people. I’ve never been in a cast with such wonderful humans. Every single person was great, and I think that’s one of the reasons the show was so great, because the chemistry amongst the company was so genuine and supportive. Matt created this energy and rehearsal space where we could just work, create, trust each other and care for one another, and that’s why the show was so successful. Those kind of shows where everything is so effortlessly brilliant don’t come around often.
In 2010, you toured the US as Peter in Peter Pan, how was this?
Again, incredible. I’m very, very, very lucky with my career because I love to travel, and getting to go to all these different parts of the world doing this play was great. Meeting so many different actors from different parts of the world and putting on this show and coming together all for this common goal of the love of theatre was amazing. I’ve made friends for life and so many memories. Being twenty-three and doing this big old play around the United States is something that I’ll never ever forget because we had so much fun.
On screen, you are best-known for playing Lol in The Story of Tracy Beaker on CBBC, do you remember how you felt booking the role?
Yes, I got the call from my child agency at the time. I remember them saying to me that I was playing it awfully cool when I found out. I’d not seen the show before and Series 1 had done so well on BBC and the book was so famous but I’d never heard of it. That’s probably why I got it because I was just really relaxed! I remember getting the call and calling my mum and she was crying because she was like, “oh my God, my boy got this, he’s going to be on BBC!”. I was only fourteen but I just remember being excited knowing I got to film all summer and that it was going to be fun.
What are some of your favourite memories from working on the show and being in the cast?
I’m glad it was pre social media. I can’t speak for anybody else but I never really realised how popular the show was. Social media now allows you to gauge how popular something is. You’re so contactable and people can message you on Instagram or Twitter as a scene is being broadcast – it’s instant. This was just before we hit that moment in time so, for me, it was just going and having a laugh with my mates in the summer and having food fights, and getting to act and be paid for it. It was amazing, it just felt like fun.
Laughing until I was crying is my overriding memory of the whole thing, with so many different people from so many walks of life. It’s not often you sit here and reminisce about the jobs you’ve done but now I’m doing it one after the other and I’ve been so lucky to work with such brilliant people. I just remember laughing and having fun, and I think that translates when you watch it because you can see we’re genuinely having the time of our lives.
After The Story of Tracy Beaker ended in 2006, you returned to CBBC for Young Dracula, what was it like on set of the show?
Young Dracula was great because it was a little bit more serious than Beaker in terms of there was a horror element to it. We got to film in these big castles, which was great, and do night shoots at about 3am in Caerphilly Castle. Again, I was working with some really cool people.
What did you enjoy most about presenting on CBBC with your Tracy Beaker co-star Ben Hanson?
We had so much fun! We were young, I was twenty and I think Ben was twenty-two. Ben and I really know how to make each other laugh and I think we would often try and stitch each other up so we would struggle to present that particular live link. That BBC building isn’t the BBC building anymore. Again, it was kind of historic that we were some of the last people to work in there before it was transferred up to Salford. I remember, again, getting off the tube at White City and looking at the huge sign at BBC Television Centre that I’d seen so much when growing up and thinking, ‘I work here’. I grew up on the edge of an estate in Cardiff and I was then stood outside the BBC and that was where I worked.
Can you tell us about some of your other stage and screen work which has included What the Butler Saw and the film Summer Scars, which led to winning an award at Seattle True Independent Film Festival?
What the Butler Saw was great, it was the Joe Orton play. That was in Los Angeles and I got to do a lot of research on Joe Orton, who I love. His diaries are fantastic and he was way ahead of his time. I was the only Brit in a cast of Americans so I felt a little bit of responsibility to make sure that we were doing the British writer, story and comedy justice.
Summer Scars was also great. I was only eighteen but working on something that was quite heavy after doing kids’ TV for so many years was interesting, and difficult at times because the rules are different in terms of the dynamics on sets. It was really challenging but really worth it.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
My uncle was an actor and I remember going to see him in Les Mis in 1994 when I was seven. I remember going to the Palace Theatre and just feeling the atmosphere in there and the lights going down and everybody transfixed on stage. That’s when I knew that was what I wanted to do, so I’ve known since I was seven. I think it comes from the love of the art of it and getting to explore characters and tell stories. I think there’s something about being a Welsh Irishman that we have a love of stories… I love telling stories, whether it’s at a dinner table or whether it’s a full-blown production. I think telling stories is almost the earliest ever form of entertainment for humans and I love it. There’s something in me that loves to convey a story.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I know Sonia Friedman is putting Jerusalem back on with Mark Rylance and that is the best performance I have ever seen by anyone ever doing anything. I remember going to see Mark Rylance in Jerusalem in New York and just sitting there and thinking, ‘how are you that good?’. It literally blew my mind to a gazillion pieces watching that man in that play at the height of his powers. I don’t think I will ever see any performance as good as that even on TV and film, he was majestic. So I really, really want to go and see that when it comes back.
I’m probably going to go and see Under Milk Wood at the National as well because it’s Dylan Thomas, who is like Wales’s Shakespeare, and I’m a proud Welshman. Michael Sheen is in it and he’s another absolute legendary actor from Port Talbot. Under Milk Wood is an absolute masterpiece so I can’t wait to go and see that.
We understand you’ve been holding online acting classes, what are these like to do?
They’ve been great. I try and be as honest, understanding and as open as possible and I love seeing people progress. I’m a nurturer by nature so I like helping people and seeing the lightbulb moments in them when I ask if they’ve tried something. Also, having been so lucky to work for so many years, you forget that you’ve amassed a knowledge along the way, so when speaking to somebody who’s at the beginning of their journey who is seventeen or eighteen, you just assume that they have the same knowledge as you but, of course, they haven’t. Being able to sit with someone and watch them progress as an actor is really fulfilling, to be honest. I’ve also enjoyed debating pieces with people, I think any kind of art is about collaboration, and I enjoy somebody giving me their point of view. I might not have thought of something like that so then we can explore that idea together. So I enjoyed the collaboration aspect more than anything else, I’d say.
How does it feel to finally have the industry reopening and what are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2021?
It’s been brutal. I don’t think theatre has suffered like this since probably the plague. Even in the war they still had matinees. These wonderfully historic buildings that have given so much to people over the years being shut down overnight, and the devastation that’s caused people, will be felt for years and years. It’s heartbreaking. To see it now finally show the shoots of recovery is amazing. I hope that when we all go back eventually, we all look out for one another a bit more and understand each other a bit more. I hope we all realise a) how lucky we really are that we get to do what we love for a living, and b) that we need to cherish something that was taken away from us so swiftly and so quickly.
And what I’m looking forward to for the rest of 2021 is normality.
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