AS a youngster James Cooney enjoyed the magic of theatre in Manchester — now his world is a stage.

The former Holy Cross student is playing a starring role in what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest play with one of the country's leading theatre companies.

James, who is from Radcliffe, is playing Horatio in The Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) acclaimed production of Hamlet, which is showing at The Lowry Theatre.

The production was originally seen in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2016 and is now on tour before it takes to the stage at London's Hackney Empire.

The 28-year-old who also attended St Monica's High School in Prestwich, said: "It is amazing to be performing at The Lowry. I am a frustrated footballer and it must feel like when Gary Neville goes back to Manchester United.

"The Lowry is somewhere I used to go when I was young, and watch the actors perform — and now I am performing on the stage in my hometown. It just feels unbelievable"

James, who trained at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, made his debut with the RSC in 2016 playing Rosencrantz in Hamlet and approached the production team to play Horatio, Hamlet's friend.

James, who appeared in three plays for the RSC during 2016, said: "In Stratford I was Horatio's understudy and I knew the actor who played him was busy so I asked, saying I understood if they wanted to recast, but said that I was confident if given the opportunity, I could play it. Thankfully they agreed. It is great because Paapa Essiedu, who plays Hamlet, and myself are good friends which helps us on stage. The audience see two friends, which we are on and off stage."

James has also appeared on television, with roles in Silent Witness, and a has a number of film credits.

James said: "Mr Campbell at Holy Cross was the first teacher to suggest I should get into acting — I had no idea how to do it, and he helped — he is to blame!"

The award-winning play is a radical re-working of one of the Shakespeare's most famous plays, Hamlet returns to a modern West African state following the death of his father, that state's ruler.

James says the play is as powerful today as it was then and lends itself to different settings.

"I was thrilled to have been offered the part. Shakespeare is still relevant today, has strong messages for today," said James.

James will perform today and tomorrow before going back on tour with the cast and to perform in Plymouth.

While performing at The Lowry, James, has been back in Radcliffe, enjoying home comforts, with his proud family watching him on stage.

"Some people get nervous when their family is there but I prefer it because I know there will be people who will love my performance," he laughed.