James Phelps says reading the script for his new play 'The Greater Game' left him "welling up" - and he can't remember the last time he felt "so achieved" doing a piece of work.

James Phelps

James Phelps

The 'Harry Potter' actor - who appeared as Fred Weasley in all eight of the wizard franchise films - swaps his wand for a rifle as he takes on the role of footballer Richard McFadden in the Battle of the Somme production, which tells the true story of footballers who signed up to fight in World War I, and he has been "blown away" by the powerful play.

He exclusively told BANG Showbiz: "When I was walking to the Tube the other day I was thinking, 'I can't remember the last time I felt so achieved doing a piece of work, which hasn't even been seen by anybody.'

"Because when you do film you rehearse it for a little bit, you shoot it and you don't see it again. You're always thinking, 'I wish I did this, I wish I did that.' Whereas here, I felt so achieved on what we'd worked on, it made me feel lucky to be in the company that I am. Everyone is giving it 110 per cent. I feel so lucky to be part of this story, and this journey."

Speaking just four days into rehearsals, he added: "We feel like we've been together for such a long time - in a good way.

"I'm just amazed how it's come together in such a short amount of time, and in such a good way. I'm just blown away by it."

The production will focus on the lives of James' alter-ego Richard and his best friend William Jonas (Steve Bush) who travelled from Newcastle to London to turn out for Clapton Orient FC - the former name of National League side Leyton Orient FC - and they later swapped the hallowed turf for the battlefield to fight for their country in France, which neither survived.

And 32-year-old star James says rehearsing the play resulted in the whole cast getting emotional.

Speaking at Orient's Brisbane Road stadium, he added: "It's one thing to read the script out but to hear it out loud and to act it adds more depth to it. We've done a couple of scenes that aren't that uplifting and we were just all getting welled up, or properly crying at some parts.

"That wasn't from parts of the script where you would think it would be, but it just happens very naturally. All of a sudden you are welling up and you're like, 'Oh my God.' "

Writer Michael Head, who also stars in the play, has worked on the story before so didn't expect to get emotional while rehearsing the latest incarnation - which is directed by Adam Morley - but he has been in tears on several occasions.

He said: "I've done this play before, I've been working on this story for 10 years. I'm really de-sensitised to it. It's not I don't care.

"When the show went out before I didn't cry once. But I've been in tears doing it this time. Literally four or five times.

"It's because it's what they've brought to the table as actors and how clever the director has been with it. Little visuals that you don't see in your head."

As well as being a tear-jerker, the play also has positive parts which could see the audience in fits of laughter.

James added: "We're not going after tears, though. Some people could think, 'It's a war film, they're trying to make you cry.'

"We're not trying to do that. We're trying to make you laugh, definitely in the first half."

'Outlander' actor Scott Kyle, former 'EastEnders' star Michael Greco, and Essex Boys Retribution's Paul Marlon also tread the boards in the production, as well as Victoria Gibson and Helena Doughty.

The play is part of Football Remembers, an initiative set up by the Football Association, Premier League, English Football League and Professional Footballers' Association to support a range of projects commemorating the Armistice and conclusion of the First World War Centenary.

'The Greater Game' opens on Tuesday (30.10.18) at London's Waterloo East Theatre. Tickets are available on waterlooeast.co.uk