The second in a King’s Head Theatre double bill at Trafalgar Studios sees Roly Botha in his West End debut. Daniel Perks catches up with Roly to chat about his lead in Strangers In Between:

The King’s Head Theatre is no stranger to a West End production. Strangers In Between is the second show in a double bill of transfers to Trafalgar Studios, with the acclaimed retelling of La Bohème due to end on 6 January 2018 – check out our 5-star review of this incredible, updated opera. But young headliner Roly Botha is much newer to the West End scene – he reprises the role of Shane in Tommy Murphy’s Australian box office smash.

When I got the phone call, telling me that it was confirmed, I joked with my agent that in the contract she should put I need my face on a poster and my name in lights. Then we went and did the poster shoot and I fucking saw the poster – it’s my face in the West End!

Theatre Roly Botha Strangers In Between Trafalgar Studios

Roly Botha

Roly has all the exuberance and attention span of a beloved puppy dog – and who can blame him? A man at the start of what will no doubt be an illustrious career, he is playing his first West End show in the role that gave him his first professional job two years earlier:

For it to be Strangers In Between means an awful lot to me. To have been offered the chance to do it twice at the King’s Head Theatre was amazing – it’s such a rich role, a beautifully written play with a lot going on. 

I was shit scared for that first show – I tried to be aware of how lucky I was because it was my first job and I would have taken anything. For it to be at a venue with the prestige of the King’s Head, directed by someone with the prestige that Adam [Spreadbury-Maher] has, was so amazing.

So, to be back in the room and feel slightly more in control of what I’m doing is really nice. 

Theatre Roly Botha Strangers In Between Trafalgar Studios

Dan Hunter & Roly Botha (image courtesy of Andreas Grieger)

2017 was a year of reprisals, it seems, for Roly. His first outing as Shane was in June 2016, before his first character revival in January 2017. He is literally stepping back into the same shoes time and time again. For a young actor at the start of his career, is this comforting – the idea of regular work and a chance to grow in confidence – or infuriating, little opportunity to flex his acting muscles in different styles?

In my opinion, I would suggest that any opportunity to work as a new actor is an opportunity to be seized:

I did Strangers In Between in January 2017 on two days of rehearsal – it was resuscitation, getting it quickly back to life. This time we’ve done a lot of the foundational character work that we did at the start of the process – sieving it, seeing it again. The process is always the same, building a character. But this time I already know some of the details, I have some understanding.

Theatre Roly Botha Strangers In Between Trafalgar Studios

Stephen Connery-Brown (image courtesy of Andreas Grieger)

Strangers In Between is centred around runaway Shane, who escapes his rural, hellish hometown for the bright lights of Sydney. It’s a coming of age piece about friendship and establishing of one’s self-identity. Roly came to London from the Isle of Wight straight after school, deciding against university in order to jump into working as an actor. The similarities are easy to spot:

With every character that any actor plays, there’s a certain amount of yourself that you bring to it – you have an inability to do anything but that. With Shane, I was struck by his journey from rural isolation to the city that he perceives to be the peak of liberalism and freedom. I latched onto that, I grabbed it.

There was something about me being terrified during rehearsals, compared with Shane being terrified all the time because of the trauma that he’s suffered in his past. It all just gelled – that naivety, being the youngest person in the room.

Theatre Roly Botha Strangers In Between Trafalgar Studios

Roly Botha (image courtesy of Andreas Grieger)

I haven’t seen Strangers In Between, but I can propound it to be a two-act play that will ring true with many a young professional, someone taken in by the seductive pull of a big city full of promise. It’s easy to overlook the potential pitfalls of moving somewhere new and leaving an old life behind – crushing loneliness and low mental health, as all you can notice is that others seem to be having more fun, enjoying life more and being more successful than yourself:

I moved to London when I finished school because I knew that I had to do acting. I didn’t make a plan B – I wanted to go and make money by acting, writing, or composing. It took me a while before I started getting into rooms, as the guy who doesn’t know anyone or anything. A year later, I was walking through a room and I saw all these people I’d met, or worked with. 

I’ve just been relentlessly proactive – if you make the effort to attend workshops, to go to the theatre frequently, to interact with other people in the same universe, then you can’t help but start getting to know people. 

Theatre Roly Botha Strangers In Between Trafalgar Studios

Dan Hunter & Roly Botha (image courtesy of Andreas Grieger)

Roly’s journey to date is a heart-warming tale of someone who has made it work through a combination of naïve optimism and energetic pluck. There’s something to be said for putting positivity out into the universe and seeing the potential for growth in every opportunity that comes your way.

So, now he’s conquered the West End, what does the rest of Roly’s dream 2018 look like?

It’s astonishing to think that Tom Holland stood down from playing Spiderman just to give me the role!

I am such a nerd – I only didn’t go to the midnight screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi because I had rehearsals the following morning. I was so sad to not be there, so I went the day after by myself, I wore my Star Wars T-shirt and I cried within the first three minutes. So, to be in Star Wars, or to be in a Marvel movie.

I realise that my wish list has no stage work on it! I’d love to be working at The Globe, The Young Vic, The Old Vic – either of the Vics! – would give me such a rush.

Theatre Roly Botha Strangers In Between Trafalgar Studios

Dan Hunter & Roly Botha (image courtesy of Andreas Grieger)

Whether it be as a superhero, in a sci-fi film, or on another world-renowned stage, Roly has the right mix of enthusiasm, ebullience and exuberance, i.e. a triply energised threat, to set him up for a bright future.

But can he condense all those feelings about Strangers In Between into just three words?

Fuck off Daniel!

Apparently not.

 

To read more about Strangers In Between, which plays at Trafalgar Studios from 10 January – 3 February 2018, follow the company on Twitter (@KHTWestEnd) or visit the theatre’s website – www.atgtickets.com/trafalgar-studios

Strangers In Between is one our Theatre must-sees of 2018! Want to read about more unmissable theatre? Check out our editors thoughts here.