Martina Laird lands role in Derek Walcott’s “Starry Night”

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Actress Martina Laird is over the moon about her upcoming role—not that anyone could blame her.  She gets to work on the freshly scripted play O Starry, Starry Night written by 1992 Nobel Prize winner (Literature) and playwright Derek Walcott, as Essiba Small reports in this article for Trinidad’s Express.

The play is set for run from May 2 to May 4  at the University of Essex, where Walcott is a lecturer. It explores the possible relationship that Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin might have shared when the two moved to Arles in Southern France in February of 1888.

Van Gogh’s plan was to form an artist colony where artists could work together. In December of that year, and in a fit of insanity, Van Gogh threatened Gaughin with a knife. He later returned to their house and cut of a piece of his ear which he presented a prostitute.

“It’s a play about relationships but it also tells about life, passion, love, envy and genius.”

In the hands of Walcott, the Caribbean elements are ever present. Even the accents are local.

“We explored a lot of accents but I am happy that we settled on our own because it is like we are taking to Europe our appreciation of European artists. This is a T&T Gauguin and Van Gogh with no apologies.

Laird used to play with Walcott’s daughter Anna when they were children and they both went to see his plays at the Little Carib Theatre. Walcott was also a friend of the family, still no amount of familiarity with the 83-year-old St Lucian could stop the jitters Laird experienced at having to work alongside him.

“I was scared! He is a genius and has such a formidable presence. “I just had to give it the big one and pretend. I hid my terror well,” she said with a laugh.

The cast flew to St Lucia to rehearse the play two weeks ago in what Laird called intense sessions that focussed on the cast dynamic and script.  The ambience of Walcott’s home and being around the replicas of Gauguin and Van Gogh paintings, done by a Caribbean artist, added to the magic of the rehearsals, Laird said.

It was also the first time she worked with Wendell Manwarren and Nigel Scott, a veteran whose acting work she always admired.

Laird worked with Green before on a production for her Cascadura company which she runs with Trinidad-born, UK-based Renee Castle and Indra Ove. (who is the “Green” being referred to here?)

The team left Trinidad for England last Tuesday to join David Tarkenter, a longstanding member of the Mercury Theatre Company in Colchester and a student actor. Laird was seven years old when she joined the Lilliput Theatre Company under the direction of Nobel Douglas and Tony Hall.

“I think I was a part of the first batch of children that they took in.”

At ten, she drafted the play Cinderella Strikes Again, a localised version of the popular fairy tale. At Bishop’s High School she put together sketch comedy shows with her friends.

Laird was fortunate to act alongside seasoned actors like Joanne Kilgour-Dowdy in the television series Ephiphany and Maurice Brash and Tony Hall in Who the Cap Fits. When she got to London, Laird pursued drama and French at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

“Drama was academic so when I had time I sank myself into performance. There was no escaping my passion.”

At 20 when Laird broke the news to her parents  that she wanted to be an actreess, she didn’t have to sell them her dream too much especially given her family’s creative and artistic leanings—her father Colin being one of this country’s foremost contemporary architects—who has designed and restored prominent buildings across the country and brother Christopher, the founder/CEO of Gayelle The Channel, co-founder of Banyan Productions and a filmmaker.

On the advice of Walcott, who thought that the British classical training was far superior than that of the US, the Lairds sent their daughter to The Webber Douglas Academy in England, an acting school where she did her classical theatre training.

Having had the Webber experience, Walcott admitted : “I am still greatly curious about how theatre teaching is on the next side (USA).

Being a  jobbing actor in England is hard but so far Laird has been lucky.  For five years she played the part of paramedic Comfort Jones in the soap opera Casualty, a British version of ER.

Comfort was such a well-loved character that years after leaving the show, Laird would still be recognised. “Heavens forbid if I am around a crisis. Everybody thinks I am on a shoot.”

Laird left her Comfort Jones role she said because the role started to take its toll on her. The lines of Martina Laird the actress and her character Comfort Jones were blurred and Laird took on her character’s stress. “I still spring into Comfort Jones mode with I see someone hurt.”

“On a bus recently, an elderly woman missed a step and fell on the pavement hitting her head. I just grabbed my bag and ran out of the bus and elevated the woman’s head, something I learned on the set of Casualty.”

With O Starry, Starry Night Laird said she is most looking forward to sharing with British audiences what she thinks is “a moving and really clever and challenging piece of work”.

“I am looking forward to being a part of a definitive production of a new work by Derek. I have seen revivals of his plays before but to be a part of a new work by Derek Walcott and to do it in England is a great honour.

For the original report go to http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/ACTRESS–203309371.html

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