From Purfleet to Poldark, via Romford Market: Actor Luke Norris on his play's Queen's Theatre homecoming
PUBLISHED: 15:00 09 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:22 09 September 2019
A self-confessed "Romford boy" who has played for an Upminster Sixth Form's rugby team at Twickenham, starred in a primetime BBC drama, and is now having his award-winning play performed at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch... It's safe to say Luke Norris has lived quite a life in his 33 years.
The Poldark star spoke exclusively to the Recorder to share his memories of growing up in Havering, and tell us a little bit about his play So Here We Are, now being performed at the Hornchurch venue.
Luke, who now lives in South London, told us: "Spiritually, I still tell people I'm a Romford boy.
"I feel like it's my home.
"I was born at Orsett Hospital and spent the first few years of my life in Purfleet, but then we moved to Romford.
"I grew up in a flat above a shop in Station Parade before moving out to Gidea Park and then Harold Wood."
And the father-of-two's family have even deeper roots in the town's history.
"My family ran a fish stall, Fancourt's, in Romford Market for more than 100 years, my great-grandfather ran the stall, then my grandfather and then his brother, but unfortunately it closed five or six years ago now."
Luke went to primary school in Romford before joining Redden Court Secondary School, where aged 16 he took his first steps into acting.
"My drama teacher was called Eddie Aylett, and he really backed me.
"He even paid for me to go to my first audition at the National Youth Theatre. We still keep in touch on Facebook every now and then."
After secondary school the young Luke joined Coopers' Company and Coborn Sixth Form in Upminster.
He was even a part of a Coopers' rugby team that played at Twickenham in the final of a national competition.
Playing at scrum half, Luke recalls the team "didn't play very well" and lost the game, but he still looks back fondly on the experience.
It's not hard to see how that camaraderie fed into So Here We Are, the play he wrote aged 23 that won him the Burntwood Prize.
Set in Southend, So Here We Are tells the story of a group of 20-something mates getting ready to play some five-a-side football following the death of a close friend.
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"It's a play about lads and loss, and about growing up, or not," West Ham fan Luke says.
The play is, in his own words, "an amalgamation of a number of personal experiences", but the origins of its core premise of younger people coming to terms with loss is something he still remembers vividly.
"A boy in our year at school was murdered and we all attended the funeral, that was when it clicked for me, 'I am not invincible - young people do die'."
And the emotional linchpin of young men coming to terms with the suicide of a friend is something that still resonates today.
Luke said: "Unfortunately suicide is still the largest killer of young men and politically there is still quite a way to go in terms of provision for young men.
"But having said that, I definitely think young men growing up today are getting better at talking about their feelings and going looking for help."
Luke shot to fame after being cast as Dr Dwight Enys in BBC One's Cornish drama Poldark.
His level-headed and courteous portrayal soon saw his character become a fan favourite before the series ended after five seasons last month.
But the stress of being on primetime TV is apparently nothing compared to having a play you've written brought to life.
"It's terrifying," Luke told the Recorder. "It's worse than watching yourself on TV on Sunday nights because you have very little control over it.
"Caroline Leslie, the director, has been very open and welcoming, and we've discussed a few things, but it's the difference between being a football player and the team's manager really."
And as homecomings go, the Queen's Theatre is one the now-famous actor is massively looking forward to.
"I've got loads of fond memories of Queen's," he revealed.
"We went to the pantomime every year and I remember seeing Return to the Forbidden Planet [written by the theatre's former artistic director, the late Bob Carlton] there.
"It's a brilliant community venue."
So Here We Are is at the Queen's Theatre in Billet Lane, Hornchurch, until September 28.
Tickets are available at Queens-Theatre.co.uk or by calling 01708 443 333.