Veterans who served in Northern Ireland and Iraq starring in WW2 play

Soldiers swapping the theatre of war for the theatre stage are showing their mettle as actors.

Veterans are performing alongside “civilian actors” in a stage version of War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo’s book Little Manfred – a tale of post- Second World War reconciliation.

Among them is Oliver Devoti, 37, who has been in Game of Thrones, Bodyguard and The Monuments Men – directed by George Clooney – since his four years in the Army, serving in Northern Ireland.

He said: “I did riot control and took a brick to the face which broke my nose but the scariest side of it was being on patrol. I get a lot of dark and moody parts because of my lived experience. I understand trauma and I can portray that.”

Another actor who draws on his past is Tip Cullen, 54, a Royal Marines Commando for 30 years who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said: “The helicopter I was supposed to be on in Iraq crashed. I saw a fireball and 12 colleagues die and had to carry on. Everything I do as an actor is in memory of the friends I lost.

“They don’t have the chance to tell their stories. I want to tell stories that are impactful but it’s for them really.”

Tip sees many similarities between acting and being an elite commando.

He said: “In the Marines you are a ­performer, you rehearse and then you’re measured by your performance.”

The Belfast-born dad-of-four, who quit the forces to become an actor at 47, has appeared in Shakespeare, toured in Greece and spent two months in Argentina in a play showing the Falklands War from the point of view of both sides.

Meanwhile, ex-Household Cavalry soldier Harry Lay makes his debut in Little Manfred, which runs at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, West London, until next Sunday. Next year, it moves to venues in Northumberland.

Sir Michael has given the Soldiers Arts Academy the option to adapt two more novels, Shadow and A Medal for Leroy.

He said: “Having been a soldier, I know the experience and understand the comradeship. It helped me write War Horse and other stories. I think with soldiers as actors, they would bring the same authenticity and understanding.”