From Link Larkin to a Cockney soldier kidnapped by the IRA is quite a leap, but it’s the one that Ben James-Ellis will be making next month.

After being discovered via the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do competition, James-Ellis made his stage debut as the teen crooner in the West End premiere of Broadway musical blockbuster Hairspray, for which he won the 2008 Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. He’s now making his play debut in the title role of Irish playwright Brendan Behan’s modern classic The Hostage, which runs at Southwark Playhouse from 4 to 20 February 2010 (preview 3 February).

News that a young IRA man has been sentenced to death by the British reaches the whores, sailors, pimps and revolutionaries who reside in a seedy, Dublin boarding house. In retaliation, the IRA capture a Cockney soldier (James-Ellis) and bring him to the house. Tension mounts until the execution hour arrives and, with an explosive finale, the hostage’s fate is decided.

The 13-strong cast of the new Jagged Fence production also features Gary Lilburn and Stephanie Fayerman. Adam Penford directs, with design by Morgan Large. Jagged Fence is a company dedicated to helping audiences rediscover little known or rarely performed classics.

The Hostage, which combines black humour with live Irish music and dance, was translated from the original Gaelic and premiered in 1958 at the Theatre Workshop at Stratford East, with director Joan Littlewood and the cast developing the piece and revising the text with Behan in improvisational workshops. It has not had a major London production since a Royal Shakespeare Company staging in 1994. Brendan Behan’s other plays include The Quare Fellow and Borstal Boy.