Entertainment Views Interviews: James Phelps – Star of Harry Potter and The Greater Game at Waterloo East Theatre

Football and theatre unite as part of Football Remembers

Michael Greco is set to play war hero and football manager Billy Holmes alongside Harry Potter’s James Phelps who is changing a wizard wand for a rifle as he moves from the Battle of Hogwarts to the Battle of the Somme.
Other cast members include award winning actors Paul Marlon (Communion, Dangerous Mind Of A Hooligan, Essex Boys Retribution) and Scott Kyle (Outlander, Kilo Two Bravo, The Angels Share) as well as Victoria Gibson and Helena Doughty who some of the more keenly eyed readers may recognize for their connections to both the football and theatre world. All of these line up under the stewardship of multi award winning director Adam Morley who will present The Greater Game as part of Football Remembers, a pan football initiative set up by the FA, Premier League, English Football League (EFL) and PFA which will support a range of projects commemorating the Armistice and conclusion of the First World War Centenary.
The Greater Game tells the true story of some of the footballers who signed up to fight in the Great War, focusing on lifelong friends Richard McFadden (James Phelps) and William Jonas (Steven Bush) who travelled from Newcastle to London to play football for Clapton Orient, before swapping England for France to ‘fight for King and Country’ – a fight neither one would survive. More than a story of football or war, The Greater Game is a story of love, friendship, sacrifice, triumph and loss. 

“a mix of harsh reality and tender and cherished moments” ★★★★★ Guardian Series 

After a 5 star run at the Southwark Playhouse in 2017, The Greater Game has been re-drafted and is set to come back even stronger for a run at the Waterloo East Theatre from October 30th to November 25th. Some nights have already sold out to the show critiques raved about: 

“Make the effort to see this, it is well worth while” ★★★★★ West End Wilma

“It is very rare you get a chance to tell a true story where the families of the fallen are directly involved’  said producer and O’s legend Peter Kitchen ‘even more so when it is such a touching yet funny true story’. ‘The last show got a standing ovation every night and word of mouth lead to over 4k people seeing the first production, which we are all very proud of, so to get the chance to tell this amazing true story one more time and do justice to the men and woman who sacrificed so much 100 years ago is a real honour”

The show was written by Michael Head on the back of his 5 star show ‘Worth A Flutter’ which is currently being considered for a West End Transfer following a highly successful run at The Hope Theatre.

Michael said; “to get the chance to tell this story, to touch so many and bring an audience to tears and fill the theatre with laugher was a real pleasure and this time everything is set to be even stronger than our first run”.

Tickets can be booked via https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/the-greater-game

I’m a self-confessed Harry Potter fan so I was delighted to be able to interview James Phelps about the play, here’s the result of our chat:

Thanks for talking to Entertainment Views, James, tell me about the piece and your character…

Its about Clapton Orient who were in the 2nd Division of English football at the time of WW1 and really could have gone onto great things on the pitch before the war. However, once the war started almost all of their players and staff signed up to fight. They were the first English side to do so in such numbers.
I play Richard McFadden who was their top goal-scorer. In fact, when researching the role I read the Daily Express had called him the ‘outstanding player on the field’ when he played for the Southern XI vs England and scored the winner.
What was your initial impression of the script? 
When Adam Morley (the director) sent me the script I read through it and loved it. I laughed, cried and after finishing, it made me want to know everything. I couldn’t believe it is a true story, the script really has the banter of a dressing room but the truths about war and life back then.
What are the key factors a script must have to entice you to do it? 
I want to care about the people in the story, what they do, what happens to them. And if you are still thinking about their stories hours or days after you know its a good one.
What do you feel your character’s strengths and weaknesses are? 
He was a real life hero, not just on the football pitch, and even before he went to the front. He rescued a pair of kids who were drowning in the River Lea, a man from a burning building. So that’s his strengths, but I’m not sure if he had many weaknesses.
Did you have prior knowledge of the Battle of the Somme from a historical point of view? 
Yes, I am a bit of a history buff. I went on a school trip to the Somme, Passchendaele , Ypres, many years ago now. But the memories of it have never left me, seeing how many graves there are, names on the monuments of those with no known graves. In fact I have two great uncles whose names are on the Menin Gate. I think it has only been as I have got older I appreciate even more what they all went through and how truly terrible it must have been.
What do you think the challenges of this piece are? 
For me, it has been the accent for the character I play, Mac. He was born in Scotland and moved to Blyth in the north east till he was 22 when he moved to London. So I’ve had to learn a Newcastle accent with a slight Scottish hint to a few words. I actually went up to Blyth to hear how the locals speak as I am so determined to get it right. I also decided to lose some weight for the role, and get into shape as footballers would have been in the 1910s. My diet hasn’t seen any sweets or fast food for quite a while.
What can the audience expect from the production? 
They can expect to see a production that tells the true story of friends that go to fight for King and country. The impact that it has on their families and friends back home and what a great sacrifice they give.
Sell the show to me, why should we all come and see it? 
I think it’s a great way to honour the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1. The play will take the audience back to this time and the day to day lives of these people as war was breaking out, showing how although this was the worst conflict in history, they still stayed together as a team and friends. It isn’t a show saying “look how bad war is”, the audience can decided that for themselves; we want to show what happened and how this really should have been the war to end all wars. I hope the audience comes away from it still thinking about these people’s stories and appreciating what they did.
Huge thanks to James for his time, I learned all about the Battle of the Somme during History GCSE so I think this will be a very interesting piece to watch. Wishing all of the team well with the production! 
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