Harry Potter star Oliver Phelps swaps magic for murder in Bury St Edmunds bound thriller
- Credit: Contributed
Harry Potter star Oliver Phelps has swapped his wand for a warrant card, making his stage debut as a policeman caught up in a murder mystery.
Oliver is bringing the sticks with him to Bury St Edmunds, the golfing kind, not the quidditch ones.
“Two of the other guys in the company are playing golf with me three times a week... so we’ll play a few courses around there,” says the actor, known to millions as George Weasley from all eight Harry Potter films.
“I’m playing off 10 at that moment so its competitive. We’re having a series at the moment and one of them’s just crept into the lead, but he’s playing off eight.”
Touring theatre clearly agrees with Oliver, who’s making his stage debut in The Case of the Frightened Lady. He plays the police sidekick to Inspector Tanner, who uncovers a shocking and closely guarded secret when called to investigate a murder at Mark’s Priory, the grand ancestral home of the Lebanon family.
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“It’s a mystery set in 1932 in the south of England. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin, somebody gets bumped off and everyone’s left guessing who did it.
“The inspector is Gray O’Brien (known for his roles in The Loch, Peak Practice, Casualty and Coronation Street) who’s a fantastic actor. He’s been really good with me because it’s my first stage show. These guys are masters of their craft and it’s been very much a case of trying to do as well as they’re doing.”
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Following this year’s acclaimed production of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone, The Classic Thriller Theatre Company returns with this new adaptation from the king of the detective thriller, Edgar Wallace; the brains behind King Kong.
Hailed as one of the most popular writers of the early 20th Century, his page-turners are regarded as the bedrock of the modern thriller and this remains one of his most celebrated works; having been adapted for film several times.
Oliver says it’ll keep even ardent armchair detectives guessing.
“A lot of people I know don’t work it out until the reveal which is great. Keep an eye on whoever’s on stage because there’s subtle clues, but sometimes it really throws you.
“There’s a nice little bombshell at the end of the first act, which is quite good because when the curtain comes down I’m on stage and you just hear everyone go ‘oh’ and with people referring with each other. I stand behind the curtain and listen to people’s theories. Sometimes they’re a bit blind-sided, considering I play a police officer I did hear someone say ‘I reckon it’s the tall one’.”
Stepping on stage for the first time was exciting and nerve-racking, which is why he wanted to do it.
“You should always be open to new adventures, especially as an actor. , A lot of people who’ve done stage have raved about it and I can totally see why.”
“It’s quite a nice genre to jump into and a nice part, where there’s a bit of growth to the character throughout the play. It’s Bill Kenwright and a big theatre company.”
Oliver’s making up for lost time. He and twin brother James leapt like a chocolate frog straight onto the big screen after skipping school to attend auditions for the first Potter movie.
“A lot of people go through that stage school thing or they cut their teeth on other productions. Being on something so big when I was so young it’s nice to do something now on a different scale. It doesn’t mean the effort is any less or anything like that, it’s just a different environment and I’m always embracing different environments.
“I’ve really enjoyed this whole experience so more theatre will certainly be on the list to do. Bury St Edmunds is actually going to be my final stop on this journey as it were, finishing on the Saturday. It’s going to be a difficult one to follow.”
So far, Oliver’s not been greeted by wand waving Potter fans when the curtain goes up. They’re definitely in the audience though.
“Afterwards at the stage door, I’ve met some people who are big Potter fans. We were in York the other week and two girls had flown from Austria to watch the show. In Malvern there were three girls, two were from Germany and one was from the Czech Republic.
“They literally saw on my Twitter feed I was doing it. They’re big fans of Harry Potter and myself through it and they wanted to come to see something different. I don’t shy away from the fact I was in that. It was such a big thing. It’s nice.”
He laughs when I ask what it was like watching himself grow up on the big screen, preferring to think he hasn’t aged that badly.
“The ginger hair normally throws people because I’ve actually got brown hair. It just became normality to me being part of it. I didn’t see it that we were in the biggest film franchise of all time, I just saw it as a job.
“That side of things probably resonates with a lot of people because that’s the way most of us looked at it. Afterwards we’d play golf, go down the pub with our pals and that would be it. There was no hierarchy, I’ve always been very conscious of that which is why it’s always been good to look back and remember it with such fine memories.”
It must’ve been weird swapping JK Rowling’s wizarding world for normal life?
“Normal life for me was doing Potter,” he laughs, “because it went on for so long. We always knew the end was coming and if anything it was quite nice to finish because it meant we could try other stuff but also it meant we were finishing on the biggest high we could which always sustains it. With the fan base, people look at it with even more nostalgia or respect now which is fantastic.”
As for what George would be up to now.
“I think he would be running his joke shop (Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes), maybe even franchising. He’d definitely be an entrepreneur.”
See The Case of The Frightened Lady at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, July 30-August 4.