By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - British actor Daniel Radcliffe won plaudits this week for a new stage role as a bullied Irish cripple that takes him a critical step further away from his days as boy wizard Harry Potter.
In his third foray onto the stage in six years, Radcliffe adopts an Irish accent to play Billy, the bullied 17-year-old title character in "The Cripple of Inishmaan", a politically incorrect black comedy by Martin McDonagh.
Billy, orphaned in mysterious circumstances, is being raised by two surrogate aunts and longs to escape from his life on the Aran Islands in the mid-1930s and the mockery he endures for his physical deformities and daydreaming while watching cows.
When a film crew arrives on a neighboring island to cast for a Hollywood movie, Billy manages to persuade a boatman for a lift to the auditions and gets sent to the United States for a screen test. But his dreams do not pan out as expected.
This was 23-year-old Radcliffe's third time on stage as he builds a career outside Hogwarts and he was praised by critics for taking on challenging roles rather than settling back on the money he made over 10 years as Harry Potter or opting for soft film options.
In 2007, Radcliffe stripped naked in London and New York productions of the play "Equus" and appeared on Broadway in 2011 in the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying".
His performance in "The Cripple of Inishmaan", that is running for 12 weeks at London's Noel Coward theatre, was described as "honest, sensitive, and unshowy".
"(He) proves, as he did in Equus, that he is a fine stage actor with a gift for playing social outsiders," wrote Michael Billington in Britain's Guardian newspaper.
Critic Henry Hitchings from London's Evening Standard wrote: "Radcliffe's desire to challenge himself is admirable, as is his refusal to milk his part and instead deliver a performance of moving modesty."
Most reviewers gave the production four out of five stars, saying it had far more than just the pulling-power of a celebrity in the lead with praise for other actors starring in the revival of the 1996 play.
The play is based around the making of the 1934 fictional documentary "Man of Aran" about life on the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland.
But Radcliffe's continuing popularity was evident by the crowd of fans and admirers waiting outside the stage door to catch a glimpse of the actor whose run as Harry Potter from the popular books by JK Rowling ended in 2011.
His films have since included the 2012 horror "The Woman in Black" and playing poet Allen Ginsberg in the 2013 indie film "Kill Your Darlings".
Radcliffe has made it clear he wants to vary roles, enjoying the different experiences of working in film and on stage.
"With theatre I always feel I learn a lot, about stamina and energy and those kind of things, but with film, film is very much my home," Radcliffe recently told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Clare Hutchison, Editing by Paul Casciato)