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The art of diversifying

DYNAMIC DUO: Nathaniel Martello-White and Denise Gough star in People, Places & Things
(Photo credit: Johan Persson)

“I WOULD encourage aspiring actors to diversify – to find something else they feel passionate about so that they don’t feel so pressurised if they don’t get a role.”

It would seem that Nathaniel Martello-White has taken his own good advice, if his career is anything to go by.

A graduate of the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), the British actor has worked in theatre, television and film, with credits including Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Young Vic, the BBC drama Death In Paradise and ITV’s Law & Order: UK.

Understanding his own need to diversify, the south London-born performer turned his attention to writing, penning Blackta – a biting satire, which examined what it is to be a black actor in modern day Britain, and whether black talents find it harder to land work that their non-black counterparts.

Enjoying a successful run at the Young Vic in 2012, the production examined an experience that Martello-White knows well.

“I think it’s at the elite levels when black actors get marginalised,” he says. “For instance, I was astounded that O-T Fagbenle, who played Levee in the National Theatre’s production of Ma Rainey didn’t get nominated for a best actor award at the Oliviers. Black actors are judged through a different lens.”

Martello-White feels this is all the more disappointing, as he believes that creating greater diversity on stage and screen would also create a more diverse audience.

“When we see a black actor brought up in Elephant and Castle playing Hamlet at the National Theatre, audiences from Elephant and Castle will come and see it. There is still work to be done – more so on screen than in the theatre.

“Race and art is a deep conversation,” he continues. “I see people as human beings and not through boxes. Boxes are created to create a hierarchy, and the more you get away from them to define people, the better.”


"I think it’s at the elite levels when black actors get marginalised."

Thankfully, Martello-White’s approach to his art has proved fruitful, allowing him to exercise his talents both as an actor and a writer. Does he have a preference between the two?

“I love going onstage and performing, but there’s nothing like writing a play and seeing it performed and seeing the buzz of the audience’s reaction. I’m writing more now and have a play opening at the Royal Court Theatre in September. I find all the casting and design meetings more rewarding than performing.

“Acting is an interpretive art form and you have little control as an actor. With the turn of a head you may or not get a role on the next big Netflix series – depending on who saw or didn’t see your audition. A lot of people in theatre know my work and each night can be different.”

Martello-White is currently demonstrating his performance prowess in the West End, starring in People, Places & Things at the Wyndham’s Theatre. He plays the role of Mark, a man who has overcome alcohol addiction and is now trying to help his friend Emma (Denise Gough), who is struggling with her own addictions.

“I would describe People, Places & Things as a study of the human condition, realised through the process of recovery,” he says of the production, which is written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Jeremy Herrin. “Mark has been through the trauma of addiction and is now trying to save Emma.

“Mark reminds me more of my cousin than myself – a young black man brought up in south London. He has a hard shell, which is on show to the outside world, whilst he is tender and deeply human on the inside.

“We all try to live a more honest life and reach a level of balance – and that’s what Mark has achieved.”

Having racked up a number of achievements, where does Martello-White see himself five years from now?

“Geographically, I see myself between London and America,” he says. “I have TV shows in development and by then, I would love to be in the second and third season of something I’ve written for TV.

“I will have written a few more plays, consolidating my writing work, and have the freedom to create my own product.”

People, Places & Things continues at the Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2. For tickets, visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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