An Interview with Matt Rolls
Exeliksi are bringing a gripping new play to the Camden Fringe, the Mumble caught with the man behind it all…
Hello Matt, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I was born and bred in Norwich, Norfolk, a beautiful part of the world! I currently live in Essex, where I trained at East 15.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
I think film captured my imagination before theatre. I grew up on James Bond and classic World War II adventure films. They were and are pure escapism for me. From there I knew I wanted to be involved in storytelling in some way, at least as far as I could intellectualise that as a kid, and I did a lot of creative writing. My parents enrolled me at a Saturday drama class at Norwich Theatre Royal when I was 8 and I was hooked. I stayed with them and worked through their youth company until I was 21! Then I got into drama school.
Can you tell us about your time with the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow?
I spent a month there in the summer of 2017 as part of an international collaboration the school has with East 15. We worked on Stanislavski’s approach to acting and biomechanics. I played Tuzenbach in Chekov’s Three Sisters, which is a wonderfully complex part and everything I thought I knew about acting was made almost redundant. Play your objectives and find the game in the scene. Everything else, including the lines, are secondary really. Truthfulness evolves organically from your inner intentions in the moment, and the scene will be completely different every time. It was a transformative experience.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
It’s live. It’s in front of you. You can almost touch it (sometimes you can touch it, depending on the show!). Those are the clichés I suppose. But I don’t blame the rise of ‘on demand’ entertainment for any perceived disinterest in theatre. Theatre is still very much by the middle class, for the middle class and it has to change. The class divisions in our present society are enormous and theatre simply isn’t doing enough to bridge the gulf in my estimation. As creatives, I think we’re often more out of touch and narrow-minded than we’d like to admit. We seem to be heading towards a singular political narrative, and I think that’s pretty dangerous.
Can you tell us about Exeliksi, & your role with them?
Exeliksi is a production company I’ve co-founded with my friend, Dimitris Kafataris. It is derived from the Greek word for ‘evolution’, therefore the language that gave birth to theatre and democracy. Theatre, society and politics are intrinsically linked and it’s vital that all three progress right now. So Exeliksi seemed fitting.
You’re masterminding a new play, VICE, at the Camden Fringe, can you tell us about it?
VICE is set just a few years from now, at the time of a civil war in England. It feels very much to me that the world is on the edge of a precipice and VICE was written as a response to that. If we fall, who picks us up? Do we carry on as we were? How do we go about re-modelling the world? But there is a smaller, human story too concerning a father and his daughters, which becomes the main focus.
That’s quite an imminent apocalypse, are you nervous about the current global political climate?
Of course! We all like to think that a war such as those occurring in Syria, South Sudan or Yemen couldn’t happen here. But look at how divided our country is at the moment, along class lines in particular. Look at the response to Brexit. It wasn’t compromise or reconciliation, it was further polarisation and ostracisation. Look at the state of debate and discourse. Look at the Grenfell Tower fire, a landmark, public event in our history where our government failed to take care of our most vulnerable; the poor, the elderly, the disabled, refugees. And for the whole country to see live on television. We all saw it. If we carry on the way we are, I can’t help but fear we’re headed towards further disaster. But I believe there is hope if we can all recognise our own and each other’s capacity for change, instead of picking diametrically opposed sides all the time and letting them define us. VICE is ultimately about reconnection and reaching out to each other.
VICE is your debut play as both writer and director; are you finding the play is constantly evolving?
Absolutely. The cast and I have all had an extra year of training since we first started working on it, so we’ve been able to spot things we hadn’t before, find new approaches and see what works dramatically. It’s been a collaborative creative process with the cast, whom I trust enormously, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
I don’t have any expectations and I don’t think it would be right of me to. I can hope though. As I said, the play is ultimately about reconnection. If someone came and saw the show, went home and simply called a friend they hadn’t spoken to for years, perhaps because of a falling out they had, that would be a huge reward for our work. It’s not about going out and drastically changing the world. It’s on a smaller scale.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of London, what would you say?
Come and support a group of young artists as they try and find their voice within this profession! You may laugh, you may cry and it’s cheaper than the West End!
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
I’ve recently graduated so I have a lot to sort out! Creatively, I have some ideas for new projects, both as an actor and writer. There are a lot of avenues I could go down and I look forward to the future.