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Thirty years on the stage for Lurgan actor Thomas with no end in sight

"As the economy started to grow, more production started coming and I think the game changer was Game of Thrones. Crew and cast from all over the world started to realise that Northern Ireland was a force to be reckoned with on the world screen."

Photo by Steve Langan

Acting is well and truly in the blood for Lurgan man Thomas Lappin, who is still just as passionate as ever despite three decades in the business.

With both his parents having been involved in drama, his mum even performed on stage whilst pregnant with Thomas.

Not many actors can say they have graced the stage before they were even born!

Thomas, who has been in the acting business for thirty years now, still holds drama close to his heart and has no plans to step back any time soon.

He performed in the Market Place Theatre in Armagh recently, appearing in ‘A Happy Medium’, a feel-good comedy performance headlined by household-name May McFettridge which tells the story of a woman who discovers that she has ability as a psychic medium.

After that, “hilarity ensues,” Thomas says.

The week before, the show was held in the Opera House in Belfast, before coming to the Market Place Theatre, then heading to Ballymena and with the final night in the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen.

Having worked in acting since graduating with a Drama degree from London in 1993, Thomas says that the experience on the stage is just as amazing as ever.

“I have loved it. I’ll be sorry when it finishes,” He said. “It’s been great working with the guys. John Linehan [May McFettridge] and Olivia Nash from Give My Head Peace are both in it and that in itself has been an amazing experience.

“They’re professionals and as funny off-stage as they are on-stage, we have had such a laugh. It’s been really good fun and just learning from them because they have so much experience in theatre over the years.

“And the audience has been really enjoying it,” he added.

You can see Thomas on the small screen too, as he has recently starred in a new advert designed to encourage organ donation. He says he was keen to audition for the role and was “thrilled” when he got it.

“It’s a good cause and now with Daithí’s Law coming in hopefully it’ll persuade some people to donate and maybe do some good, so it’s lovely to be a part of that.”

Reflecting on his career so far, Thomas says he has been “very lucky” to get to where he is today.

From childhood, he was always involved in local drama in the Lurgan area, taking part in plays, musicals and acting in local clubs and societies.

He says he was “always interested” in drama, noting that both of his parents were involved in the Lurgan Operatic Society meaning that most of his earliest memories involved going to see his parents perform.

“It’s definitely in the blood,” he said.

Thomas appearing in BBC’s Bloodlands

Upon graduation, he went straight into being a professional actor, and was cast in ‘The Crucible’ in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. He then secured a role in the ‘Merchant of Venice’ at the same venue.

When asked if any particular play stood out to him in his youth, Thomas explained: “Brian Friel plays I remember from from being a child and being at school really inspired me.”

Thomas says that the acting landscape has shifted dramatically in Northern Ireland in the years since he started, citing the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and the increasing stability of politics.

“As the economy started to grow, more production started coming and I think the game changer was Game of Thrones. Crew and cast from all over the world started to realise that Northern Ireland was a force to be reckoned with on the world screen.

“When I first started out, people had to go to London as there was nothing really happening here. There was nice theatre and some bits of TV, but now I have friends who are actors who are moving from England to Northern Ireland because there’s so much happening here. It’s totally changed.”

Thomas describes himself as a “jack of all trades” in the acting world.

“I do whatever comes along. I’ve done everything including; plays, TV, film and radio…. ‘A Happy Medium’ is almost like coming back to my roots and getting back into the theatre. It’s a totally different medium, but it’s very, very exciting and very rewarding.”

Whenever he isn’t acting, you can find Thomas teaching English online to kids in Hong Kong.

“What I would advise any young actor to do is get a side hustle,” he said. “Something you enjoy.”

Asked if he had any tips for Northern Ireland’s budding actors, he said: “Just work hard and be nice to everybody, because everybody in the industry knows everyone else. Work hard, learn your lines, be on time and you’ll do alright.”

Thomas added: “You’re always learning and that’s important.  

“You’re not alone, millions of other actors are going through the same thing as you. It might seem like it’s never going to happen, but you just have to stay positive and keep working hard.”

When asked to reflect on his career in acting so far, Thomas says that as he has got older he as become more comfortable in his skin, but also “more realistic” about the types of roles he can play.

He said: “When you’re younger you think you can do everything. When you get older, you become more comfortable, more confident and more relaxed with it. And I think that shows when you’re auditioning.

“When I was younger I was maybe a bit overconfident to be honest!”

On where he is in his career today, Thomas said: “I’m someone who’s very comfortable doing what they’re doing and in a good place. I’m happy with my career and not bored with it, and I’m very excited for the future.

“You couldn’t want for more than that, could you?”

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