Martina Laird: From Little Carib to the Little Mermaid - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (2024)

Newsday Reporter
Martina Laird: From Little Carib to the Little Mermaid - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (1)


MARTINA LAIRD is a very busy and extremely versatile actor, moving from film and television to London theatre and voice work that recently has taken her all over Europe.

She was a star in the live action film of The Little Mermaid, and on the Hallmark channel in a remake of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which was filmed last year in Bulgaria and Ireland and released in February.

Daughter of architect Colin Laird and sister of Banyan producer Christopher Laird, Martina grew up in a home where her parents were ardent supporters of the arts, and especial Beryl McBurnie and the Little Carib Theatre.

Martina Laird: From Little Carib to the Little Mermaid - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (2)

“My dad helped Beryl put together the first building that was the Little Carib, and both my parents were involved in those early days. My mother talked about selling tickets outside the Little Carib back in the day, and when they would run out of tickets, Beryl would just write more and just everybody would go in!”

At 13, Laird appeared in Epiphany, a Banyan television series, with Tony Hall, Christopher Pinheiro, Joanne Kilgour and Wilbert Holder. She recalled it meant at an early age she had to learn about camera angles and different aspects of television production.

Derek Walcott was also very much part of her early years, and she grew up watching plays at the Little Carib.

She told journalist Tamika Mitchell last year for the online British Blacklist, “I remember going to see Norman Beaton and Barbara Assoon in Derek Walcott’s Remembrance…

“It was when I was making the decision to commit to the life of an actor. I saw that production and thought, ‘Yes, I want to be able to do that.’

“I was friends with Anna Walcott when we were both part of Rounders Children’s Theatre, which became Lilliput. This was founded by Tony Hall and Noble Douglas, who had both recently returned to TT after studying abroad. This meant we had a great foundation in acting and in dance.

"We were both in the production of Cinderella Strikes Again that I wrote, with Tony and Noble’s encouragement. It was a Trinidadian take on all the fairytales and nursery rhymes we were brought up on as kids."

Encouraged by Walcott, Laird went to the University of Kent at Canterbury, originally to study French, but switched to drama and started a broader theatrical career. At university, she was excited by all the theatre available to her and got caught up in “all the productions I could take part in” as an actor. After college, she got into drama school, attending Webber Douglas Academy in London.

She has been in a number of feature films, including as a forensic officer in the Jason Statham thriller Blitz (2011), a doctor in Forget Me Not (2010), detective in Deadmeat (2007) and a coach in Fedz (2013).

But none was as big a box-office success as the Walt Disney live action version of The Little Mermaid released last year, in which she played Lashana, a maid in the castle.

Interviewed at the movie’s premiere in London, she commented on the magic of live animation.

“I loved being on set. In a scene where we are all in a ball…in the studio there’s just a blank screen. When you look at the film there is this raging sea on the horizon…This is total fantasy!”

She recently elaborated, “Thank God for Noble and my dance background! You’re shooting to screens in studio rooms. Then they fill in the background.

“But when you’re filming it, you have to imagine where things are. I think they’re geniuses. The size of the production is unimaginable and incomparable to anything that I’d done before. Rob (Marshall) would be directing things that you couldn’t see whilst you were there on set.”

She was also delighted Marshall “was so supportive of having Lashana speak with a Trinidadian accent.”

Besides feature films, Laird has been a staple of British television for decades. Her long career goes back to 1991, including numerous crime programmes and dozens of other television dramas. Paramedic Comfort Jones is her best-known role, running for over 200 episodes in the medical drama Casualty from 1999- 2006. Laird has previously described that character as a favourite: “She’s tough, alive, competent and fun” – but after several years she was ready to move on.

She has since played a wide number of different roles, from a detective to a car thief on television. She recently finished filming for a new European television series production of The Count of Monte Cristo, expected later in 2024, which was shot across Europe, in Paris, Turin, Milan, and Malta, with a Danish director, Billie August.

One of her favourite recent roles was Unforgotten, a very popular recurring British crime drama. “It was a wonderful complex, disturbing part to play, as one of the suspects in the cold case murder being investigated. It was really well received, and I got to play with some great actors and there was a great response to my role.”

Laird has also long been a voice actor as well, even as part of the World of Warcraft video game.

A steady force on BBC radio since 1998, she has acted in radio plays and recorded literature, including classics of Caribbean literature including CLR James’s Minty Alley in 1999, followed by Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance, Oonya Kempadoo’s Buxton Spice, Jean “Binta” Breeze’s Carmella’s Island, Sam Selvon’s The Housing Lark, and Harold Sonny Ladoo’s No Pain like This Body. She did several episodes of the Ingrid Persaud series of short stories Chronicles of Burke Street, which is the only BBC radio series still available online to enjoy.

“The freedom of voice work is special for most actors. That’s quite freeing, quite fun and playful. And especially because you’ve got to cover so many voices, so many emotions. And it’s you in this room and a mic and some poor sound recorder on the other side of the screen.”

Recently, she has recorded for BBC radio both Persaud’s new novel, The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh, and Monique Roffey’s new novel Passiontide.

Her passion for live theatre has led to decades of performances throughout England in a wide variety of plays and roles. One of her most famous was the lead role of Sophia Adams in the classic Trinidadian play by Errol John Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, which had a long run at the National Theatre in 2012 and an extensive tour around England in 2014.

She went to see a production of Walcott’s Pantomime in 2012 at Colchester.

“Derek (said), ‘I’m working on this play and I’m going to write you in it,’ and he did!”

In 2013, she starred with Wendell Manwarren of 3canal and Brian Green in a production of Walcott’s O Starry, Starry Night at the University of Essex, where Walcott was teaching at the time.

Laird starred in Trinidad-born playwright Mustapha Matura’s Meetings, at the Orange Tree Theatre in London during 2023. She featured in another of Matura’s plays, Three Sisters, back in 2012 during the London celebration of TT’s independence. A Broadway World review called Meetings “riotously funny and a feast for the senses.”

For Laird, it is a play that has deep resonances, as she told Mitchell: “Like Mustapha, I grew up in Trinidad before coming to this country. I think that’s why this play is interesting to me, it expresses the reflections of another Trinidadian as they look back across the sea and across time…”

One of her favourite stage roles was in The House that Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley. It is a re-telling of Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, but based in New Orleans at the time when Louisiana was being transferred from France to the United States, in 1803.

“Though this was back in 2014, I still get people saying what an impact it had on them. It is a telling of a story of a family of ‘women of colour’ in the era of plaçage, where there were supposedly balls to get young girls ‘placed’ with a suitable wealthy man. My character, the mother, was adamantly against this for her daughters. It is still one of my favourite scripts that I’ve ever worked on.”

Shakespeare has been another focus since her youth.

“I’ve always loved Shakespeare. I grew up in a very successful colonial educational system where we grew up on that. Shakespeare and the Bible have been part of Carnival performance.

“Trinidadians love to speechify, we’re all part of that wonderful oral tradition. I grew up with wonderful teachers teaching me, Othello and Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet, etc, etc. It’s as part of me as anything else in Trinidad.”

Martina Laird: From Little Carib to the Little Mermaid - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (3)

Laird has been in almost a dozen different Shakespeare productions, going back to 1992, including some by the Royal Shakespeare Company and others at the Globe Theatre in London. Just a few years ago, she starred in a trilogy of stunning all-female Donmar Warehouse productions of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest, all set in a women’s prison. For Laird, this series was amazing because she got to play leading male roles in Shakespeare that she would never have been cast in otherwise.

“The concept that Phyllida Lloyd, the director, came up with allowed the freedom of casting in a women’s prison so the cast can be of any age, any background.”

There were acclaimed performances in both London and New York City. Later they were filmed, shown on BBC television, and are available on the subscription service Digital Theatre.

For Martina Laird, one of the qualities of her professional life is its diversity.

“I’m what one calls a jobbing actor. I’m very lucky. I did more theatre for years and years, and now I’m happy that there’s more television coming back my way, and film.”

Martina Laird: From Little Carib to the Little Mermaid - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (2024)


Is Leshawna from Little Mermaid Trinidadian? ›

Martina Laird was born in 1971 in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Who plays Leshawna in The Little Mermaid? ›

The Little Mermaid (2023) - Martina Laird as Lashana - IMDb.

What ethnicity was Ariel? ›

The movie is loosely based on the fairy tale, so Disney has the freedom to give Ariel any skin color they want. In the 1989 movie, Ariel was born in the fictional underwater kingdom of Atlantica, which technically makes her Atlantican, not Danish.

Is Ariel in the Caribbean? ›

The Little Mermaid is set in the Caribbean

But while filming took place on the Italian island in the heart of the Mediterranean, the action of the film is meant to take place in the Caribbean.

Is Little mermaid set in Trinidad? ›

The Little Mermaid animation was set under the sea in the kingdom of Atlantica and its adjacent surface world, both of which were believed to be located in Denmark. It's also where author Hans Christian Andersen, who penned the original story, was from.

Who plays the Trinidad girl in The Little Mermaid? ›

Martina Laird: From Little Carib to the Little Mermaid - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.

What happened to Ariel's mom? ›

Unfortunately, she died as a result of a run-in with a big pirate ship when Ariel was very young, fueling Triton's hatred of music to the point where it was banned from Atlantica as a result. A statue of her dancing with him is present in his courtyard, where he cried over her death every day.

Is there a Trinidadian in Little mermaid? ›

It definitely has for London-based St Kitts-born Trinidad-raised actress Martina Laird who has joined the world of The Little Mermaid.

What nationality is The Little Mermaid? ›

The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale of Danish origin and was originally conceived by writer Hans Christian Andersen, who was best known for his riveting fairy tales. Andersen lived from 1805 to 1875. He published The Little Mermaid in 1837 as a part of a larger collection titled Fairy Tales Told for Children.

Is Sebastian from The Little Mermaid Caribbean? ›

In the series, Sebastian is said to have come from a large Jamaican family.

What ethnicity is the crab from Little mermaid? ›

Sebastian is a fictional character who appears in Disney's "The Little Mermaid", who serves as the court composer for King Triton's orchestra in the underwater kingdom of Atlantica, but one question remains, is Sebastian a lobster or a crab? Well, he is in fact, a red Jamaican crab.

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