COMPLEX: Martina Laird says she was delighted to be able to act in a play written by August Wilson
MARTINA LAIRD wowed audiences at the Theatre Royal Stratford East last year, starring in Mufaro Makubika’s critically acclaimed play Shebeen, and now the former Casualty star is back at the venue.
King Hedley II, by US playwright August Wilson, sees her play Ruby, an archetypal strong black woman and mother.
Laird told Life & Style: “I’ve always wanted to do an August Wilson play and the opportunity to be in this one was what really attracted me.”
She added: “I love his writing. I love the poetry and profundity of what he writes. And as a black actress, to work on the superlative work of an African American playwright is an achievement for me, it’s fulfilling.
“To discuss these themes in such an eloquent and real way is great.
“King Hedley II is one of his cycle of plays. Many people are familiar with the fact that he has written a cycle of 10 plays, each one chronicling a different decade of the 20th century African American experience within that decade, and this is the one written about the 1980s.
“It doesn’t directly approach the politics of the time, what it does is each of them looks at the lives of a certain community in Pittsburgh and these are people who the politics and the times affect.”
Laird admits that being in such a production wouldn’t even have entered her head when she first started out as a young aspiring actor.
She admitted: “When I was very young I hadn’t heard of August Wilson. So it was a delight to discover him when I was at the Tricycle Theatre, which is now the Kiln, and to grow and follow all of the productions that they did then.
“Also, very early in my career I saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first time they did it at the National [Theatre] and that was just thrilling. So very soon he came onto my radar. “It never occurred to me that I would be cast in an August Wilson, so it’s wonderful.”
An award-winning theatre actor, Laird waxes lyrical about being on stage with co-stars Sir Lenny Henry and Aaron Pierre, both of whom she admires tremendously.
She enthused: “They’re wonderful performances that they are both doing, and Aaron is this new talent who I believe is going to have a wonderful future ahead of him.
“The great thing is, when you are in a small group of people you form a little family and everyone is an equal member – so Lenny just gets on with it like any other cast member, as does Aaron. Everyone is full of support for each other and everyone has each other’s back when they are on stage.”
Still best known for her role as Comfort Jones in the BBC drama Casualty, Laird says the show was a ‘landmark’ for her. “
Casualty was a great opportunity for me, I would never deny that. It was a special time. Comfort Jones was an amazing character to play, I got to do all the things every actor would want to do.
CAST MEMBERS: Laird alongside Sir Lenny Henry
“From the medical stuff to real dramatic situations, love situations, hanging out of the back of ambulances, jumping off of buildings, exploding things, it was just the best opportunity and I loved it.”
Looking forward, Laird has an eye on what she would like to get up to next. She explained: “I love my job, I love being an actor and I look at the canon of work that is there and like any actress it would be wonderful to be in a Tennessee Williams or one of those type of things but at the end of the day that’s there and that’s quantifiable, known.
“But I am really interested in finding new writing that addresses the kind of person I am, that I fit, that doesn’t need to be adapted or doesn’t have to be colour-blind or have some new spin put on it.
“I’d like it to have the complexity, elegance and the challenge of some of the classics. That’s what I’d like to find. I also like to do television like that too, that really shakes you, that makes you think and makes you wonder if you’re right about the world.”
King Hedley II runs at various times at Theatre Royal Stratford East until June 15.
Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.