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Rolan Bell warns his villain in Cambridge Arts Theatre panto Aladdin is a real bad boy

Former EastEnders star Rolan Bell is promising a dastardly turn as Abanazar in the Cambridge Art’s Theatre’s panto Aladdin.

The TV and West End actor is best known as Theo Kelly in the soap opera and Sergeant King in BBC One’s hit TV Drama Our Girl, opposite Michelle Keegan.

But he has also previously appeared in the Cambridge Art Theatre panto as Silly Billy alongside the show’s long-standing dame, Matt Crosby. And he’s clearly relieved to have moved to the dark side after experiencing the infamous “slosh scene” with Matt where the performers have to fall over countless times on a wet, slippery floor.

Rolan Bell will play villain Abanazer in Aladdin (53358035)
Rolan Bell will play villain Abanazer in Aladdin (53358035)

Rolan said: “Fortunately, back then I was in my mid to late 20s so I would recover quite fast. Still, it takes its toll on your body. You have to make sure you’re eating your greens, especially on the days when you have three performances!

“You can’t do it in a half-hearted way – you have to totally commit to it 110 per cent every time.

“Matt is a very committed performer, which is great and he taught me a lot, especially how to fall safely. I’ve learnt stage combat before but this is a different beast altogether because it’s so fast.

“You want it to be funny, and not look too painful for people so you keep that cartoon element, which can actually be quite technical.

“Matt’s such a pro at this – I wouldn’t rush into it again but I’m glad I did it and glad I survived. And I have a lot more respect for what it takes to do it now that I know how hard it is.”

Matt Crosby (Widow Twankey) in Aladdin at the Cambridge Arts Theatre . Picture: Keith Heppell. (53309881)
Matt Crosby (Widow Twankey) in Aladdin at the Cambridge Arts Theatre . Picture: Keith Heppell. (53309881)

Rolan is happy to be back at the Cambridge Arts Theatre where they have already done a fortnight of rehearsals.

“We’re having such a good time and there are already lots of jokes but everyone is working hard and the show looks great,” he says.

“We know we’re bringing something spectacular to the stage and something that we hope will allow audiences to forget the problems of the outside world for a while. It’s great to be back on stage in front of an audience too.”

During the pandemic, Rolan has kept working on voiceovers from his home studio but also was able to film an American sci-fi show, Pandora, in Bulgaria in 2020.

He says: “When I went out there it was at the end of the summer so I packed in jumpers and things like that, assuming it would be cooler but it was still roasting hot. They had a low number of Covid cases at the time. And there weren’t many restrictions so it was a lot more relaxed with the Covid rules and I had a great time seeing some beautiful sights as well as working.

“It was just great because we had been basically stuck at home for so long. By that point I was just happy to fly somewhere and just be working. It was a blessing really and so that project will always hold a special place in my heart based on that alone, let alone enjoying the character I was playing, which was really fun as well.

Rolan Bell will play villain Abanazer in Aladdin. Pic by Martin Bond (53358046)
Rolan Bell will play villain Abanazer in Aladdin. Pic by Martin Bond (53358046)

“A character that has his own spaceship is always a cool thing.”

Rolan is hoping to do more TV work, although he also has a lot of musical theatre under his belt including playing the role of Fela Kuti in the Broadway show Fela! He was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical for his performance in the West End production of Memphis The Musical and also appeared in the Queen musical We Will Rock You.

Rolan says: “I was classically trained in acting, but I’ve always enjoyed singing as we have a big family who have always sung together and still do to this day. It did sort of happen unexpectedly, but I have very much enjoyed being in musicals.

“I’ve also loved being in TV and film and I’m fortunate enough to have had a choice. I just go along with the projects that interest me.”

The Cambridge Arts Theatre panto, directed by Michael Gattrell and written by Al Lockhart-Morley, brings the famous story of Aladdin to life.

The hero longs for riches, good fortune and his one true love while stuck working in Widow Twankey’s launderette. But when the dastardly Abanazar lures him into the depths of a deep dark cave, Aladdin’s life is turned upside down. With the genie by his side and the magic lamp in his pocket, Aladdin finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime. But Abanazar has other plans.

Rolan Bell will play villain Abanazer in Aladdin (53358037)
Rolan Bell will play villain Abanazer in Aladdin (53358037)

Exactly how villainous will Rolan make his Abanazar?

“He’s going to be unapologetically bad,” says Rolan.

“But it will be balanced with a twinkle in the eye for the grown-ups and kids. However, I’m not afraid to be big with the dark side and give that piercing dark energy.”

Rolan started out playing a baddie in his very first role at school and says that’s what gave him the acting bug.

Rolan says: “I would have been in Year 6 at primary school when I played a pirate and the audition was basically a group of guys in the PE hall doing our best ‘Aargh!’ sounds. I got the part. I realised then that I loved being on stage. I think my mum’s still got the video.”

Aladdin is showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Thursday, December 2 - Sunday, January 9. Tickets priced £17-46 are available at cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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