Rolan Bell is an Olivier Award nominated actor …
His previous credits include Memphis in the West End and Ragtime at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, he has also appeared on television and film including Pretty Red Dress.
In his latest role he play Robert, joining the longest running comedy in the West End The Play That Goes Wrong.
We catch up with Rolan who discusses the precision required to create the chaos that unfolds during the show?
Please introduce yourself …
My name is Rolan Bell, I’m an actor born and raised in west London to parents of Jamaican heritage.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
In a word – busy.
Tell us about The Play That Goes Wrong …
It’s a slapstick comedy about a group of amateur actors who put on a murder mystery play titled The Murder at Haversham Manor. Unfortunately for these drama enthusiasts any and everything that could possibly go wrong does. So throughout the show, it becomes a battle of unwavering determination vs the worst luck you could ever imagine, and what’s so funny is the harder the cast and crew try, the worse everything around them gets.
You play Robert … Who is Robert and how does he fit into this world?
Well, Robert is an interesting guy. In the play within the play, Robert plays Thomas Collymore, who is the wealthy best friend of our murder victim Charles Haversham. He’s big, he’s loud, he’s a robust man who’s always on the front foot and that’s perfect for the Robert character because he sees himself as the actor of all actors. He’s unapologetic, proud and would love to see himself as the saviour of a show filled with amateur actors but let’s just say his ego gets tested to the max.
There’s something about joining an award-winning play that’s been running for 9 years, and has had different people playing the roles. How do you fall in line with its reputation whilst bringing your special sauce to, in your case, Robert?
As you said, this is an award-winning show that’s been running for nine years now. This show is clearly a treasure that’s proven its worth. So respect is due. This show is a unique piece of theatre that requires a particular understanding of its concept to make it work. So I figured it best to strip myself of whatever I’ve done professionally and come into this like a student whilst utilising whatever quirks I may have that would fit the show and make my take on Robert unique or fresh. It’s not my aim to make him different, it’s my aim to make him believable. If the audience is immersed and the comedic beats are landing, I’m a happy man.
Your stage career is more extensive than your screen, is that by design?
I’ve always wanted to do both but my love for acting was discovered on stage. A majority of my drama education was on stage so going into the industry and gaining professional experience on stage first was a slightly more comfortable way to develop as an actor. My experience and knowledge of screen work was limited. I can remember the first time I was on set and thinking the crew were shouting Rolan, Rolan, Rolan. I thought I’d made a mistake or was in the wrong place, when actually they were shouting ‘rolling‘, letting everyone know the cameras were rolling. So in short, it was a blessing to build up the screen work at a slower pace. However, stage or screen, it’s all about doing projects I enjoy and playing characters I believe are suitable and I can hopefully do justice.
You have a role in Pretty Red Dress the debut feature from Dionne Edwards. Tell us about your experience …
Pretty Red Dress is a project I’m so proud to be a part of. When my agent sent me the script, the words flew straight off the page and my imagination was right there. When I met Dionne for the role, I felt completely at ease with her vibe so with that, plus this glorious script she’d written, I wanted to be on board. I got the call, we’re set to go and then COVID hits. I’m thinking, wow, this thing’s going to be cancelled or postponed to a time that’ll mean they need to recast etc. luck had it that the timing still worked out. Working with Dionne Edwards, Natey Jones and Alexandra Burke was a dream. We laughed loads. Natey and I were semi-method and had a lot of brotherly competition in our off-screen day-to-day interactions and with all the challenges that came about, getting the movie done, I couldn’t be happier with the finished product.
Back to The Play That Goes Wrong, can you tell us any highs, lows, solutions …
Describing any moment so far as a low would be too harsh a statement but I did wonder how my body might hold up for the duration, with so much high-energy physical work. A good diet and exercising in my spare time, has done me well so far.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
What’s your current plan B?
If all goes wrong my plan B is to dust myself off and continue with plan A.
What’s made you Sad, Mad, and Glad this week?
Train cancellations have made me mad and my one-year-old son taking about 8 steps into my arms has made me glad.
What are you watching right now?
Top Boy Season 3 and loving it.
What are you reading right now?
The Heart of The Qur’an by Asim Khan
What are you listening to right now?
My music is always random and could be anything depending. Afrobeats, Hip Hop, Jazz, Classical anything.
The last thing you saw on stage?
What’s on your bucket list?
Deep sea diving, paintball, skiing/snowboarding.
Where’s your happy place?
Celebrate someone else …
My wife. She’s four months pregnant and soldiering through some of the toughest days of sickness. I don’t envy her but I definitely rate her.
Celebrate yourself …
What I do now is to leave behind a legacy my children’s children can be proud of. I never grew up with a male role model so I’m doing what I can to make that change for the generations to come.
Whose footsteps are you following in?
Not sure about that but I’ve been watching Idris Elba’s body of work grow with keen interest in the type of projects and the hope to work with him someday.
It’s tricky with a young family. So many key moments I wouldn’t want to miss and at this time I’m in a position to be selective on what I do, if it’s worth the sacrifices of family time etc. So it’s something I’m weighing up and I’m in discussions with my agent about what direction to head in next.
Where can we find you?
I’m on Instagram Rolan Bell
Where can we come and see you in The Play That Goes Wrong?
The Duchess Theatre Tuesdays-Sundays. Find out more here.