Northern Ireland actor Raymond Walsh joins star cast for Les Miserables West End debut
A Lisburn actor says it is a dream come true to be appearing in Les Miserables in London's West End.
Raymond Walsh (30) is currently starring as Grantaire in 'Les Miserables - The Staged Concert' version of the Victor Hugo classic with a company of over 65 including musical theatre star Michael Ball, world-renowned tenor Alfie Boe and comedian Matt Lucas.
The show runs until November 30 at the Gielgud Theatre, next door to the musical's original home at the recently re-named Sondheim Theatre.
"Les Mis was the show that made me want to get into musical theatre and the one I always dreamt of doing," Raymond told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It's an amazing experience and every single night when the orchestra starts playing, I have to pinch myself that I'm a part of the show.
"Strangely my sister Bronagh was in a youth production of Les Miserables many years ago and I was asked to operate the spotlight for the actors. Until then I had never seen a musical before and was blown away," he adds.
The eldest of four children, Glengormley-born Raymond grew up in Lisburn, attending St Aloysius Primary School and Friends' School.
He initially studied communications and marketing at Ulster University Jordanstown before training in musical theatre at the Guildford School of Acting and later moving to London.
While there was no family history of acting, Raymond's father Sean played in rock bands so he grew up in a house of music.
From the moment he decided on his chosen career, Raymond says he had the full support of Sean and mum Catherine.
"My parents always encouraged me to choose whatever career I wanted so I was very lucky in that respect as they supported my decision to pursue acting.
"There were no drama classes at my school so I never really thought it was something you could make a career out of - it was always a far-fetched dream.
"When I was in my teens my singing teacher entered me into a competition with the London College of Music to find the best young musical theatre performer in the UK, which I won. The judges told me that I should really be trying to make a career out of this so that was the first time I felt that maybe it was something I could do."
One of Raymond's first London roles was in Finian's Rainbow at Charing Cross Theatre, playing opposite Christina Bennington from south Belfast who is now starring as Raven in the rock musical Bat Out of Hell on Broadway.
Another early role was in Howard Goodall's A Winter's Tale at London's Landor Theatre where he worked with Dungannon actor, Fra Fee, who appeared alongside Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne in the 2012 Les Miserables movie.
"In most jobs I've always ended up working with other actors from home. It shows what a small world it is as there aren't many of us who ended up coming across and giving it a go in London," Raymond says.
"It's a running joke when people say to me that I must know their friend from Northern Ireland who does musical theatre and I do tend to."
Despite his London success, Raymond still hopes to tread the boards back in Belfast. "A huge dream of mine has always been to work at the Lyric Theatre, having seen many shows there when I was growing up.
"I did the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs panto in the Grand Opera House a few years ago. It was great fun working alongside the legendary May McFettridge.
"Everyone who goes on tour there always says that it's their favourite theatre to perform in and that the people who work there are amazing."
Raymond has this advice for any aspiring young actors out there: "Just believe in yourself and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something."