Martin found his first audience at a young age. His family and friends were entertained by his telling jokes in a restaurant. They were rude jokes passed on to him by his elder brother, but he had little idea of their meaning. His mother suggested he join the local Youth Theatre in Norwich, where he played Polixenes in A Winter’s Tale at 13. This led to involvement with the National Youth Theatre He studied As You Like It and King Lear at A Level and was accepted by LAMDA before he even sat his exams.
He was nominated for the Ian Charleson Award when he played Sylvius in As You Like It at Sheffield Crucible in 2001. A relatively minor role, but Martin saw Sylvius as central to what the play has to say. Invited by Rosalind to tell the others what it is to be in love his sentiments are echoed by all the lovers.
He played Laertes in Hamlet, performing at Elsinore Castle. It was in this production that he met Gerard Murphy playing Claudius who schooled him in verse-speaking, a pivotal moment in his development.
But the influence of other actors has not always been so beneficial, Martin says. On two occasions played roles that were great in the hands of other actors, but much trickier on the page. So now he finds himself wondering what he will do with his role of Saturninus in Titus Andronicus this season. It marks the second time he has performed Titus at the RSC - he played Demetrius for his debut RSC season in 2003.
Taking the director's chair
Classical acting has remained Martin's passion but he has had a period of directing experience brought on, he says, by occasionally feeling like he could solve something in rehearsal and consequently becoming more and more 'vocal in the room'. So he tried it. He found it exhausting but it was a learning experience since he realised that in the process of rehearsal you must allow for organic development and trust that problems will ultimately be solved. “Directing got a monkey off my back,” he says.
As Cassius, Martin's stage presence is commanding. By initiating the conspiracy, Cassius drives the play forward with passion and energy. Martin sees his character as primarily moved to put right what is going wrong in his country. He is the tactician but he needs Brutus on side as leader. His flaw is to defer to Brutus. He is prepared to find him more honourable than Brutus, who while not taking bribes himself is prepared to accept money to pay his soldiers from Cassius while castigating the way he raises it. When Rome is divided by civil war as a result of Caesar’s assassination they both seem to embrace a death wish as if Caesar’s spirit drives them to despair.
Martin finds Cassius a complex character and says that he has learnt to play each scene for itself and leave the audience to join the dots.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.