Theatre

Talking to Martina Laird on new online theatre production 15 Heroines

“Specifically, this adaptation by Lorna speaks to me powerfully on many levels- as a woman and as Black British woman from the Caribbean. I shan’t say too much here, so as to allow the piece to unfold its own message!” Martina Laird

Inspired by Ovid’s The Heroines (Heroides), a collection of fifteen fictional letters written in the first century BCE, 15 Heroines comprises fifteen new plays to be performed in three productions: The War, The Desert, and The Labyrinth.  The writers compris of April De Angelis, Stella Duffy, Samantha Ellis, Lorna French, Juliet Gilkes Romero, Natalie Haynes, Charlotte Jones, Hannah Khalil, Bryony Lavery, Isley Lynn, Lettie Precious, Sabrina Mahfouz, Chinonyerem Odimba, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Abi Zakarian. ( Images: Shonay Shote)

The full cast are Gemma Whelan, Jemima Rooper, Ann Ogbomo, Rebekah Murrell and Sophia Eleni in The War, Indra Ové
Rosalind Eleazar
, Nicholle Cherrie, Eleanor Tomlinson and Martina Laird in The Desert and Olivia Williams, Nadine Marshall, Doña Croll, Nathalie Armin and Patsy Ferran in The Labyrinth.

Costume and props are designed by Jessie McKenzie, Emily Stuart and Louie Whitemore. Lighting is by Johanna Town, assisted by Simisola Majekodunmi. Sound and music is by Nicola Chang and Max Pappenheim. Assistant direction is by Gabriella Bird and Khadifa Wong. There will be three performances of each work with a limited online audience capacity of 250 people for each with tickets at £20. https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/15-heroines/

Martina as Sappho: credit Shonay Shote

Alt caught up with the actress Martina Laird who plays Sappho.

1. What is 15 Heroines about and who are some of the other characters?

I am very excited to see the other sections of this project. We have not seen each other’s scripts and the pieces have all been done in isolation. It seems to me that they are all adaptations and ownership of classical icons for our time. We are going through such immense and history making events globally, that this classical scale of reference feels appropriate.

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2. Tell us about the character?

I play Sappho, who is an adaptation of the legendary Greek poet from Lesbos, in a piece that is based on Ovid’s version of her letter to Phaon. The writer Lorna French, who has won the Alfred Fagon award twice, has created a character who is also from an island, widely celebrated for her lyricism, and who experiences a deep sense of betrayal of her love.

3. Can you relate to the teachings of Sappho and her expressions of love to enhance the lives of others?

Specifically, this adaptation by Lorna speaks to me powerfully on many levels- as a woman and as Black British woman from the Caribbean. I shan’t say too much here, so as to allow the piece to unfold its own message!

4. How do you relate to the idea of women going their own ways?

I think that for any group whose identity is dominated by another, a safe space is needed to celebrate unity and to grow. However, there is also the need for dialogue and coalition with Difference and Diversity outside of any group.

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5. Are you a fan of poetry, any favourites?

I have grown up with poetry as part of my life. The Caribbean has produced amazing poets whose work express the complexity of the light and the dark of the Caribbean experience. I grew up with Derek Walcott and Martin Carter. We have Caribbean poets achieving great things here in Britain, such as Roger Robinson and Malika Booker. And recently I’ve been caught by Shivanee Ramlochan from Trinidad.

6. What do you think the audience will take from this production?

I hope the audience take away an understanding of the deeply personal pain felt by Sappho at the hands of something much larger than herself.

Do you think digital theatre is a game changer, what challenges have you have had?

I think COVID restrictions and lockdown have sealed the future of digital platforms. I actually see great hope in this. We are able to participate in productions and therefore conversations with a far wider reach. People are also able to participate from their family base which means that they bring their context with them. This is something that is often traded in by so-called minorities when they participate in dominant culture. They travel in isolation. Now there is more chance that participation can start to represent real diversity. Covid restrictions can ironically free us in some ways.

8. What has lock down been like for you?

It got me very busy organizing my thoughts and educating myself. The use of digital platforms meant that I have been able to be part of many conversations, as we all have. I also think Lockdown meant that people had time to reflect on how the atrocity of what happened to George Floyd echoed in their own lives. Like so many, it’s been a time of deep worry about survival and what comes next, but also combined with a determination to eke out what positivity we can at this time.

9. What have you leart about yourself during lock down?

My actor friends and I reflected that we already had some survival strategies in place for times of isolation and lull. Don’t get me wrong, this time is intense and way beyond anything normal, but it was interesting to see and hear the rest of the population express what it felt like to experience these things themselves. For me it validated times of stress I have been through. Self-care and mental health must be a priority!

10. With everyone now talking about race, what are you hopeful about?

With everyone talking about race I am hopeful that White people will start having these discussions internally. As Black people we have always been aware of the devastating impact of racism. I am hoping that the timing of revelations and introspection will encourage response and engagement by White allies with their peers in seats of power. That is truly necessary for change.

The production:

THE WAR

Starring Gemma Whelan, Jemima Rooper, Ann Ogbomo, Rebekah Murrell and Sophia Eleni

OENONE by Lettie Precious
HERMIONE by Sabrina Mahfouz

LAODAMIA by Charlotte Jones 

BRISEIS by Abi Zakarian

PENELOPE by Hannah Khalil

Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey

War takes many forms, as shown in these five entertaining and gripping plays, all set during the Trojan War. When Paris triggered the war by abducting Helen of Troy, he left behind him a Trojan wife, Oenone. His new bride Helen left behind her daughter, Hermione. Laodamia was married to the first Greek soldier to die in combat, and the fight to possess the captured Briseis is at the centre of Homer’s Iliad. Long after the war is over, Penelope awaits the return of her husband Odysseus.

7:30pm, Monday 9 November

7:30pm, Thursday 12 November

3:00pm, Saturday 14 November

THE DESERT

Starring

Indra Ové, Rosalind Eleazar, Nicholle Cherrie, Eleanor Tomlinson and Martina Laird

DEIANARIA by April De Angelis
CANACE by Isley Lynn
HYPERMESTRA by Chinonyerem Odimba
DIDO by Stella Duffy
SAPPHO by Lorna French

Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey

Deserted but not defeated, five women confront their futures and the people who have wronged them. Now is the time to put the story straight. Deianaria tries to save her husband Heracles from his own nature. Canace defends an incestuous passion. Hypermestra is alone among her sisters – she spared her husband’s life. Dido is ruler of a city, founder of an empire – so why won’t Aeneas stay? Sappho is the greatest poet of her age, but her inspiration has run out.

3:00pm, Tuesday 10 November

7:30pm, Wednesday 11 November

7:30pm, Friday 13 November

THE LABYRINTH

Starring

Olivia Williams, Nadine Marshall, Doña Croll, Nathalie Armin and Patsy Ferran

ARIADNE by Bryony Lavery

PHAEDRA by Timberlake Wertenbaker
PHYLLIS by Samantha Ellis
HYPSIPYLE by Natalie Haynes
MEDEA by Juliet Gilkes Romero

Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey

Ariadne gave Theseus everything, guiding him through the Labyrinth to kill her brother, the Minotaur. Later, Theseus married Phaedra, who fell in love with Theseus’ son Hippolytus. Another of Theseus’ sons, Demophoon, is accused by his lover Phyllis of inheriting his father’s infidelity. Another hero, Jason, has abandoned the queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, and is now living with Medea – a woman he should know not to cross…

7:30pm, Tuesday 10 November

3:00pm Thursday 12 November

7:30pm Saturday 14 November

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