To say that Norman Bowman is excited is something of an understatement. As the Arbroath born actor and musical theatre star prepares to open in Michael Grandage's new production of Shakespeare's Henry V featuring Jude Law in the title role, Bowman can barely contain himself. He may only be doubling up in the relatively small parts of soldiers on opposing sides, Nym and Williams, but, after a career playing in number one tours of Grease and West Side Story, where he played the lead roles of Danny Zucko and ex gang member Tony, doing Henry V is clearly the biggest thrill in the world.
“I love Shakespeare,” Bowman enthuses, “and with this job I've landed on my feet. It's one of the best companies, the best director and a fantastic lead actor, so it's fantastic. Actors very often do jobs out of necessity rather than desire, but this is a labour of love.”
Bowman was cast in Henry V after Grandage saw Bowman playing Ross in Kenneth Branagh's Manchester International Festival production of Macbeth. Bowman had already worked with Grandage, when he played Harry The Horse opposite Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls. Bowman later took on the role of Skye Masterson in the same show opposite Patrick Swayze, and appeared in Grandage's production of Twelfth Night, which starred Derek Jacobi as Malvolio.
While such a track record wouldn't necessarily mean an actor would be fast-tracked to a director's next production, Grandage was impressed enough by Bowman's turn as Ross to offer him the part without an audition.
“That doesn't happen very often,” Bowman observes. “I try to be cool, calm and collected about it, but I'm literally on Cloud Nine.”
Bowman had little notion about acting until, aged sixteen, a friend took him along to the local amateur dramatics club, where that year's pantomime was being rehearsed.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do in life,” Bowman recalls, “but I thought this sounded like fun, so I went along, and ended up joining other societies, got a line here and there, which led to bigger parts, which led to lead parts, and so it went.”
Bowman went to Perth were he studied on a rock music course.
“I thought that would be the closest I'd ever get to performing,” he says.
That was before one of his lecturers, spotting Bowman's potential, suggested he go to London and do the round of auditions for musicals. After three months, Bowman was cast in Les Miserables, which he performed in both on the West End and on tour.
“My life changed,” says Bowman. “I look back at someone who was essentially a shy boy from Arbroath, and I'm surprised at the leaps that I took when I didn't really know what I was doing. That's what happens when you want something, I guess. You take those leaps, and Les Miserables became a part of my life for two years. It was a great introduction for me, but it was also a little bit scary, because you think you're not going to get picked up for another show, and maybe that's it.”
It wasn't, as roles in productions of Sweeney Todd, The Pirates of Penzance, Sunset Boulevard and Cats proved. Bowman also appeared in Carousel at Chichester Festival Theatre and as Demetrius in an open-air production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Regent's Park.
“I'm still just a boy from a small town on the east coast of Scotland,” Bowman says, “and to look at all these people of worked with, I keep on having to pinch myself.”
Beyond Henry V, Bowman will rejoin Branagh's Macbeth company in June 2014 when the production transfers to New York.
“It's fantastic to have that on the horizon,” says Bowman. “Macbeth was a dream job, so to get to do it again in such glamorous surroundings is even better, especially as Broadway is completely saturated with Brits at the moment.”
Bowman's ambitions don't stop there, however.
“I wish I had the cojonas to try some of the big, chunky Shakespeare parts,” he says. “I'd love to have a go at Hamlet or Richard III. I just don't want to get too set in my ways, and try to do work that excites me.”
Which brings us back to Henry V
“Once more into the breach,” Bowman says, as he makes his way back to the rehearsal room, sounding every inch a king.
Henry V, The Noel Coward Theatre, London, November 23rd-February 15th 2014
The Herald, November 19th 2013