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Award winning ‘wicked man’ returns to Cambridge stage.



Rolan Bell who won Best Villain after playing Uncle Abanazar in Aladdin, last year’s panto at Cambridge Arts Theatre, is King Rat this Christmas.

He told me how he loves being bad.

King Rat in this year’s Dick Whittington at Cambridge Arts Theatre is going to be an East End geezer.

He will be as hard as nails. Occasionally though, and especially when he is under pressure, the ratty attitude will start to show.

He may be seen to sniff and look round furtively.

Rats do not like open spaces. They do not like tidy places – and audiences be warned – they do not like being watched.

Rolan Bell, who is playing him, won Best Villain at the national Pantomime Awards for his Wicked Uncle Abanazar in Aladdin at the Arts last year.

Leading the cast is Pantomime Award-winning Rolan Bell, returning as the evil King Rat
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Abanazar was beautifully enunciated, after all Bell is classically trained. After by contrast, this year, the evil one will be a rough cockney character – “a Tom Hardy geezer” he says.

Bell, an award-winning actor, says he is delighted to return to Cambridge Arts for Dick Whittington, a show he has never been in before or even seen so he is very excited about it.

Though actually, he has been excited about every role he has been in since he was eight – that is just him.

He delighted his teachers at primary school when he enhanced a classroom play about geography by whistling a popular television jingle that was used for the weather forecast.

He gleefully took roles at school.

“I always invested heavily in the character and my headteacher was very supportive and encouraged me.”

Now best known for playing Theo Kelly in EastEnders and Sergeant King (Kingy) in the BBC drama Our Girl, Bell now 39, grew up in Chiswick, West London.

So where did this passion come from?

“I was born in 1983, my older sister and my younger sister and I used to see movies together in the 1980s and 1990s.

“We saw films that were too old for us, films like Beetlejuice, RoboCop and Back to the Future. That was my first cinema experience, and the way people were cast then was solely on their ability to act very well. It did not depend on internet popularity.

“They had a memorable way of delivering their lines and people used to quote these lines to each other in school and we used to say them round the house, and we sang a lot.

“We sang operatically, we sang reggae, we sang Whitney Houston, we sang Michael Jackson, we were very dramatic without realising it.

“We also watched tv. We saw Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, Steptoe and Son, Only Fools and Horses. There was a lot of great British television around then. People owned their characters, and these programmes were there for a generation.

“I told my mum, when I grow up, I want to be an actor and she said, that’s fine.”

As a young teenager he went to an afterschool drama club on Wednesdays at a local church.

He says: “I was hungry for more.” Then he took a two-year performing arts course at Hammersmith and West London College before going to the Drama Centre in London.

His first role after graduating from drama school in 2005 was to play a lead role in what became a blockbuster musical.

He was Jimmy Cliff in the reggae musical The Harder They Come at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

“It was a whirlwind. It sold out. It broke the theatre’s box office records.

“It ran for six weeks, then we got called back for another run. People kept turning up at the theatre asking if the show was still on. It was a real passion project.

“That show went to the Barbican, Canada, Miami and into the West End. The news of it reached family in Jamaica. Jimmy Cliff came to see it on stage.

“It was an all-black cast going into the West End and at that time people said would it work but it did. It was a breakthrough.”

Shows he appeared in after that included The Lion King, and We Will Rock You.

He played Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime, the lead as Fela in Fela at the National Theatre and Delray in Memphis for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor.

It was while he was on stage in The Harder They Come – in one of its London runs – that the casting agents for EastEnders saw him and offered him a role.

He has been offered one part after another but took a break this year when his wife Sophie, a deputy head, was expecting their second son.

They now have Illias aged four and baby Julius, four months.

Bell has previously played comic roles at the Arts, Silly Billy, and Buttons. This is his second time there as the villain.

He says: “You often hear actors say they love playing the bad guy because it is so much fun and it is all true, because you can behave in ways you would not the rest of the time. It is a very addictive role.”

Rolan Bell plays King Rat in Dick Whittington at Cambridge Arts Theatre from Thursday, December 1 to Sunday, January 8.


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