Star of London theatre rides out COVID pandemic at Woolooga
AFTER performing around the world and rubbing shoulders with stars like Kelsey Grammer, actress Helen Walsh has touched back down in Australia, and headed straight for her family farm north of Gympie.
A former St Patrick’s student, Helen has made a name for herself in London, where she now lives, after being cast in productions which have toured around the world, including Australia, the UK, Europe and Singapore.
Most recently Helen reprised the role of Madame Thenardier, the innkeeper’s wife, in Les Miserables, a role she has played several times before.
But on March 16, the coronavirus pandemic forced theatres to close, and Helen said they essentially lost their jobs.
After then spending five months in lockdown in her small London flat, she says returning to her family’s Woolooga farm in July was a welcome change, and she’s enjoying the freedom and open air.
“It’s still pretty dire in England at the moment, it’s really bad,” she said.
“I don’t think people realise how bad it is over there, we’re really lucky. I’m just grateful.”
While back in town Helen said she has been catching up with family and old friends, and was spending time “couch-surfing” at the farm and with family members on the Sunshine Coast.
Helen said the region had not changed much over the years and she said she always tried to return every year to visit family.
“There’s more cafes which is nice,” she said.
“But I don’t even notice it … I usually do shopping in Gympie, I’ll go to Woolies and might meet the odd person who you remember, or they’ll look at me and recognise me as a Walsh.
“Gympie’s a decent town, it’s bloody hot though!
“I’m not acclimatised to this weather, I’ve gotten used to Christmas time in England.
Everyone’s so festive, and the weather makes you just want to drink mulled wine, everyone loves having lights and decorations up.”
Most recently, before Les Miserables, she also performed alongside Emmy award-winner star Kelsey Grammer in Man of La Mancha, which had a six-week run on West End with the Enlgand National Opera in 2019.
“He’s a funny guy,” she said of the Frasier and Cheers star.
Some of Helen’s other recent performances included roles in The Sister Act, and an adaptation of Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer, which she said has been one of her favourite plays to date.
“It was a fun show, it’s just a right laugh,” she said.
“I also had a great time on Adding Machine. It was like an opera, no interval, it was just so full on.
“Those really obscure things tend to be interesting.”
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Helen will next week be travelling to Brisbane to record an episode of popular children’s show The Octonauts, where she is reprising her character Ryla, an Australian wombat who was featured in previous episodes and the Netflix movie.
“It’s nice to every couple of months get a little recording session in,” she said, explaining the recording team linked up with the show’s staff in New York and London.
Helen said her latest gig playing antagonist Madame Thenardier marked the sixth time she had performed in Les Miserables for famous producer Cameron Mackintosh, and she said by now she’d played “almost all” the characters.
“She’s fun, she’s so nasty, she’s awful to children,” she joked.
“Who doesn’t enjoy that?
“But I am primarily a singer, I’m an actress too but I do love singing and she doesn’t sing as much as the rest of the ensemble, I miss the singing of it.
“I love Les Mis to death, I’ll never get sick of it.”
Helen said she would be staying in Australia to “ride out” the coronavirus pandemic, and was ready to return to performing and her home in London, but hadn’t ruled out moving back in the future.
“I love it there, my friends are there, my life is there, my things are there,” she said.
“It’s just a waiting game, but if work came up here then I’ll take it.”
She said the Les Miserables production was currently on track to return to stages in April 2021.