You are here
Artist with a duty to truth
Actress Martina Laird’s responses were measured as she took time to consider both the questions and answers. And even when some answers were punctuated by laughter there remained a thoughtful confidence to her words.
Surprisingly, Laird’s Trini accent is intact after studying, living and working in the UK for more than 20 years. UK residency aside, it seems Laird never really left T&T—at least not in spirit.
During an interview on her parents’ high-rise verandah in Westmoorings last week, Laird shared how she overcame an initial lack of opportunities.
“Being Trinidadian I would get comments like, ‘She’s a bit too exotic’ or ‘A bit too strong.’ I think the Trinidadian-ness was hard for them to place but what I’ve discovered is most people who enjoy any sense of fulfillment in this industry tend to create work that expresses who they are it’s not just about waiting to be granted opportunity.”
It would have been hard for Laird to forget T&T, however, when her early influences read like a who’s who in T&T list. The daughter of noted architect Colin Laird and sister of TV and film producer Christopher Laird, she studied with Beryl McBurnie, Noble Douglas and Carol La Chapelle. She began studying drama at age seven and by 13 was part of a Banyan production, Epiphany, working with the likes of Joanne Kilgour, Tony Hall and Christopher Pinheiro. Laird was also a regular member of the audience at the Little Carib Theatre where she was most enthralled by the work of Derek Walcott.
Laird was able to bring all these influences together last March when she took on her first Caribbean role in the UK National Theatre’s production of Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl where she played Sophia Adams. The role of Sophia Adams was a long cry away from her most memorable role on the BBC’s TV drama casualty as paramedic Comfort Jones or on Channel 4’s Shameless where she played brothel owner Michelle.
“As an actor your first responsibility is to the piece, but if there’s an opportunity to be who you are in your work then obviously every artist waits for this. I think that was the joy for me in being in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl—to be able to bring all your experience to your work.”
“I realise that my British counterparts are very lucky because that’s what they can do with every role, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was a first opportunity to pay tribute to all the people and places and experiences in my life by bringing them together in one room.”
Having read Moon on a Rainbow Shawl in secondary school, Laird was able to develop a new appreciation for the work as well. “I remember as a child thinking it’s good but this is familiar, this is just us. I thought a classic had to be something where you needed to reach beyond yourself because you weren’t going to get it. It was amazing for me to look at Errol John’s writing and see the beauty, the humanity and the poetry.”
Her connection to T&T also led Laird to team up with fellow UK-based Trinidadian artists Rene Castle and Indra Ove to form the group Cascadura.
“We realise that our work and our expressions and who we are means that we are always returning to our country. What I think the mission might be is to find the most powerful way that our traditions inform each other both as a Trinidadian but also as people who have learnt and studied and worked under a European system.”
The group’s first project was the production of yet another UK-based Trini playwright Mustapha Matura. The group read his play Three Sisters during the High Commission’s independence celebration arts festival last year. Later this year, they’ll be working transposing a Shakespeare piece to Trinidadian sensibilities. The piece will be set during Carnival.
“It’s just amazing and enlightening how well Shakespeare is served by Trinidadian voice and expression. We have a response to Shakespeare that is immediate and authentic in ways that maybe even British audiences don’t relate which is very interesting,” she said.
Later this year, Laird will also be returning to T&T to participate in local productions for the first time. In April, she will be rehearsing a new work by Walcott while in May she’ll be working Caitlyn Kamminga and Dominique Le Gendre on a new piece called Jab Molassie funded by Calabash Foundation for the Arts.
Participating in projects that are explicitly Caribbean or Trinidadian or at least written by those of Caribbean descent fits partly into Laird’s artistic philosophy, which is based on truth.
“I think the first duty of the artist is the truth, always. And truth can be ugly and it is our responsibility to face that full on because it is our role to examine through our own experiences. As long as one is truthful I don’t think you’re ever compromising yourself or those you represent. It is when things are biased and untruthful that we have to be vigilant. My personal challenge will always be to confront the complexities.”
Martina Laird attended the University of Kent and Webber Douglas Academy in England. She is the recipient of the Screen Nation Best TV Actress and Michael Elliot Best Original Television Performance Awards. She has also been longlisted for the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Best Actress. Laird’s film credits include Blitz, For-Get-Me-Not, The Hurting and Deadmeat while her theatre and TV credits include The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder; The White Devil, Three Hours After Marriage, London’s Burning, Coronation Street, Missing and Doctors.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.