Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Interview: Rolan Bell

Rolan Bell is currently starring as King Gerard in Rapunzel at the Park Theatre.

Marking the Park Theatre’s third Christmas show, Rapunzel has book, music and lyrics by Jez Bond and Mark Cameron. The show runs until 2nd January 2016. 

Rolan was recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical at the 2015 Olivier Awards for his performance as Delray in Memphis The Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre. He previously played Brit in the world arena tour of We Will Rock You before joining the London production as part of the final West End cast at the Dominion Theatre.

His theatre credits include: Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime & Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream (both Regent's Park Open Air Theatre), title role in Fela (National Theatre), Jessie Owens in 1936 (Arcola Theatre), Ivan in The Harder They Come (Barbican/Playhouse/Theatre Royal Stratford East), Mr Haywood in An African Cargo (Greenwich Theatre), Morrell/Huskly Miller in Carmen Jones (Royal Festival Hall), Scar in The Lion King (Paris) and Wayne/Sergeant in The Canterbury Ghost (Southwark Playhouse).

On screen Rolan played Theo in 22 episodes of EastEnders and has also made appearances in Doctors and WPC 56. I recently spoke to Rolan about what drew him to Rapunzel, his whirlwind year in Memphis and what it was like to be part of We Will Rock You’s final West End cast…

Panto at the Park Theatre is always crazy! The show is completely different to what you’ve been up to recently, what drew you to the project?
After my first audition… actually after reading the script for the first time and looking at the role of King Gerard the lines just flew off the page. My imagination got going straight away and as soon as I starting reading the script I fell in love with the role, it felt so natural. When I met the guys in my audition it was so fun and laid back – it almost felt like we were enjoying ourselves as children. I knew that I would have a good time doing this, so how could I pass up an opportunity like that? It has been a lot of fun! It’s nice to work with people who are engaging their inner child to create something which entertains children.

How were rehearsals? Was it a creative process?
It was a great process; everybody was free to have their input and put ideas across. Every day we’ve been adding little bits here and there and changing sections – we’ve been experimenting and feeling free. It was really refreshing to be in a rehearsal space with so much freedom to share ideas and feel part of the whole process. It’s rare to have a job where you are all allowed to have so much input! 

Rolan in Rapunzel at the Park Theatre

What can someone who knows nothing about Park Theatre pantos expect from the show?
They can expect absolutely bonkers, outrageous, genius comedy [laughs]. It has got so many randomly funny moments sprinkled within the plots. There are some beautiful songs and very touching moments as well as the great comedy. It’s a show which is fun for the kids as well as the grownups. 

You’ve come to the Park direct from the West End. How are you finding the intimacy of the venue? It’s completely different!
As soon as I walked into the space for the first time I remembered working in other smaller theatres like this earlier in my career, and I realised how much I have missed it! I graduated back in 2005 and my first show was The Canterville Ghost at the Southwark Playhouse which is obviously a small, intimate venue and to this day my younger siblings - I’m one of seven children and I’m the second eldest - who have come to see every show I’ve been in have always mentioned that show. They say, “I loved that show, it was so cosy and intimate”. It’s been such a long time since I’ve performed in that kind of space so it has been really exciting. I obviously love performing in big spaces, but in a smaller theatre you can feel more of a vibe from the audience. Because it’s a Christmas show we have children screaming back and interacting – it’s lovely and I’m really enjoying it. 

Rolan at 2015 Oliviers launch
Memphis closed back in October; you had such a whirlwind year with the show. How does it feel to look back? Are you missing it?
That year was obviously a very special time and a landmark in my life, I’m very proud to have been a part of it. The support we had on Memphis was incredible, there were some fans queuing up for twenty-four hours waiting for tickets when we closed. It’s sad to leave a show, but I just take things as they come and keep trying to enjoy each moment. I’ve enjoyed going from Memphis to this, I’m embracing playing a character which is fun [laughs] and finding the comedian within myself. I like being able to switch it up! 

We also have to discuss We Will Rock You. What was it like to close the show in the West End?
Oh wow – it was one of those experiences you can’t believe is real until it’s over. I had so many epic moments in We Will Rock You! First of all I did the arena tour which was epic – I had never performed in arenas before – and then one day Brian May walks in and before I knew it I was in a dressing room next door to him [laughs]. When I joined the West End production I had no idea it was going to be the final West End cast… it was quite sad to think ‘this is ending’ but what a consolation to know that we were the ones closing such a great show. It was absolutely epic! I will never forget that final night; it was very emotional because some people had worked on the show for years and we saw how it had touched people in different ways. Some fans had been watching the show for ten years which gave us the incentive to really do it justice and to go out with a bang. I feel like it went out well – the fans seemed happy so I was happy. I feel so proud to have been a part of it!

How does it feel to have such dedicated, passionate support behind you from theatre fans?
The people who support you in everything you do remind you day in and day out what you’re doing this for and how special what we’re doing actually is. With that kind of support behind us all in whatever show anyone is in, it keeps the passion alive. I never forget to appreciate the support; when it comes to stage door I will take time every day, no matter if I’m in a hurry or if it’s raining or whatever, to speak to everyone. I remember what it’s like to watch a show and want to express gratitude towards the performers you’ve just seen. The fans do a lot more for performers than they realise and I really do appreciate the support!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Rapunzel runs at the Park Theatre until 2nd January 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2: Darren Bell

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