Martina Laird: Caribbean Queen

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Actress Martina Laird on bringing a Trinidadian tale to life on stage–a report bu Davina Hamilton for UK’s The Voice Online.

FOLLOWING ON from a successful run in 2012, Moon On A Rainbow Shawl returns to the UK stage.

The classic Caribbean tale from the late Trinidadian playwright Errol John is brought to life courtesy of Talawa Theatre and sees acclaimed actress Martina Laird reprising her role as spirited wife and mother Sophie. Having been part of the production’s 2012 run, Laird says she’s thrilled to be bringing the character to life once again.

“It’s like putting on your favourite pair of heels,” she laughs. “You know they’re gonna be hard to walk in but you love them so much.

“I’m really enjoying the role,” she adds. “It’s tiring and it takes a lot emotionally, but I love that. I think every actor wants to be pushed and challenged and I get that with this role.”

Describing the premise of the tale, she explains: “It’s set in a yard in Trinidad in 1947, just after the war. It’s about the struggle of the characters, which represents the struggle of the country to move on. And in moving on, does that mean staying where one has grown or does it mean you have the freedom to set your sights further afield?

“It’s about this yard full of characters and how they interact with each other, how they build their loyalties and how they break each others’ hearts.”

Born in St. Kitts and raised in Trinidad after her family moved there when she was a baby, Laird says she feels a special connection to the play.

“We read this play at school in Trinidad and I remember thinking, ‘That’s nothing big, this is just how we are.’ But to now come to it as an adult and reconnect with that past and appreciate the power of the piece is fantastic.

“It’s an amazing experience to have the luxury of bringing one’s entire history, experience and rhythms to the stage. This is a very meaningful part for me in a lot of ways.”

Boasting a career spanning almost 20 years, Laird’s acting achievements are all the more commendable when one considers that acting was never part of her original career plan.

“I came to the UK to carry on my education,” she explains. “I went to university here and from there I went on to drama school because in Trinidad, there was no concept of one becoming an actor. Acting was something that you did, but your profession had to be something else – a teacher or a banker or something like that. So being an actor wasn’t something I’d even contemplated.

“But I came here to go to university and ended up taking part in all the plays. I discovered that there were all these people who wanted to go on to drama school and who dreamed of becoming actors. I thought, ‘Wow, you can do that? I wanna do that!’”

After deciding to seriously pursue her new-found love, Laird then had to tell her family of her plans.


“I broke the news to my poor, shattered parents, but they found it in their hearts to be supportive. I don’t think they realised that acting is such a tough industry and that you need to have all sorts of emotional and personal resources in order to get by. I think had they had a full appreciation of that, I might not be here talking to you today!”

Thankfully, her career has been fruitful, with Laird racking up credits in theatre and TV, perhaps most notably for her role as Comfort Jones in BBC drama Casualty. She has also appeared in TV shows including Coronation Street, Shameless and A Touch of Frost, and her theatre credits include Three Hours After Marriage and Troilus and Cressida, both for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

With a determination to seize more opportunities in the UK, Laird says that upping sticks to Hollywood – as many of her black British acting counterparts have – isn’t part of her career plan.

“I’ve been in the business for about 20 years and I don’t think that’s a move for me right now. As hardened or stubborn as it might sound, I want to work here, I don’t want to work in America. When I left Trinidad, if I’d wanted to go to America, I would’ve gone to America.

“I very much identify myself as being part of London now and all that happens here, and my heart is very attached to the industry here in the UK. I want us to be able to succeed in this country and not to have to court success elsewhere in order to be taken seriously and to gain credibility.”

And she believes that feat is all the more obtainable thanks to black-led theatre companies like Talawa Theatre.

“When I first came here [to the UK], there was a very active black theatre scene. Talawa in particular has endured the slings and arrows. You know that ‘talawa’ means small but tough and sure enough, the company has stood the test of time and I think the work they do is fantastic.

“I love the work that is done in this country and I want to be a part of that. Yes, it is a struggle and there is a fight to be fought, but I’ve still got the fight!”

Still, when it comes to her profession, Laird is perhaps more of a lover than a fighter – and a loyal lover at that…
“I’ve remained faithful to my craft,” she says. “It’s like a lover who sometimes treats you really nicely and other times doesn’t treat you so well, but you’re faithful nonetheless!”

Considering her hopes for the future, she says: “I sound like a real soppy so and so, but I really am grateful to be able to do the thing that I love so much. I just hope that this industry – this lover, like I said – will be good to me, as long as I stay faithful!”

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is currently running at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. For full tour details visit www.talawa.com

For the original report go to http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/caribbean-queen

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