Paramedics Fin and Comfort have had their ups and downs in the past, but at the start of the new series, fans see just how serious the couple’s relationship has become as Fin prepares to ask Comfort to marry him. But before he has the chance, their world is turned upside down by a train crash.
Travelling on a packed train on the way back from holiday, Fin and Comfort share a passionate embrace in the toilet cubicles; ‘They’d gone to the toilets for a last bit of nookie,’ Kwame points out jokingly. Suddenly the carriage becomes de-railed to a thunderous sound of screeching breaks and breaking glass. Fin prises open the door to find hundreds of passengers in a blind panic. Initially phased by her fall, Comfort quickly gauges the seriousness of the accident and leaps into action. In the chaos which ensues, a multitude of casualties are tended to by the arriving team who are shocked by the catastrophe.
Usually calm and controlled, Comfort finds the crash too much to cope with when she becomes trapped in a carriage with a party of injured school children and their dead teacher. She panics when she can do nothing to save Rick (one of the children) and the whole incident hits her hard. All the foundations of her life are rocked by the effects and she is haunted by visions of the crash. ‘I don’t think she realises how severe the effects are on her,’ says Martina Laird who plays her. ‘Essentially what she is suffering is post traumatic stress disorder; all the symptoms are there quite typically without appreciating the extent of how much that can live on and disturb you.’
As Comfort starts to break down – she pulls away from Fin and doesn’t communicate, leaving a Fin bewildered as to how he can help her. ‘The effects it has on her relationship is that Comfort becomes very isolated, insular and locked off which is hard for her partner who sees her in distress and wants to help and will then only react in human ways and feel rejected themselves,’ explains Martina, 33. ‘So although they want to reach eachother with all the will in the world their actions to eachother can create a distance.’
Fin defends Comfort’s ability to work as Luke and Josh think otherwise. But he has his own doubts when she returns to work and her behaviour becomes uncharacteristic and reckless, and later speaks to Josh about his concerns. ‘He can see her rejecting her religion and he finds this difficult. He perseveres and sticks by her because he loves her,’ added Kwame.
Comfort’s faith has usually been a strong force in her life, but the incident leads her to question her religion. ‘I think when you suffer any kind of trauma you have to re-evaluate what you believe and something to that scale isn’t usual to the human experience,’ says Martina. ‘When things go wrong your faith will tell you that things always happen for the better but its very hard to believe when something quite that awful happens.’
For Martina, filming the episodes were a challenging experience. ‘The storyline at the start of Series 18 was very exciting to work on, with a great script with lots of action and drama,’ she tells us. ‘It is like working on a film. Comfort lives through all of her life’s experiences on one night. What starts off as a fun and romantic trip ends up in a disaster that tests her character and sees her rise to the occasion as well as be defeated by it. It was a great challenge to play and therefore very rewarding’
‘In my time on CASUALTY, this episode was definitely the most heavy I’ve been through. It was everything an actor prays for as it was a great storyline but unfortunately, because the two episodes took a month to shoot, I didn’t recognise the personal cost of living every day in such a dark place. Not only literally, but being surrounded by ideas of death and grief. Though it’s not real, we forget that it can have a real effect on your spirit, I was glad when I had a chance to laugh again.’
As her character suffers through post traumatic stress, Martina did a lot of background research for the role. ‘For a start the research has to be there in the script to begin with but I did do a whole bunch of research myself from reading plenty of files on PTS’. Martina also gained some of her research by chance. ‘I met someone on the train when I was travelling from Peterborough (where the train episodes were filmed),’ she says. ‘I sat next to this guy who asked what I was doing. I told him I was filming an episode about a train crash and he said he was in a train crash last year. Ofcourse at first you’re daunted that you’re sitting with someone who has gone through this in reality. But I asked him if he’d mind me asking him about it and he was very open and happy to talk about it.’
‘One thing he said, which I’m happy the episode has picked up on was that he said surprisingly there wasn’t the noise and chaos that you’d think there is. – There is at first when everyone’s going ‘what’s happened’ but after a bit there’s this stillness and silence as people get on with what they’re doing. They do catch this empty expectancy later on in the episode, as opposed to a constant din.’
Martina is pleased at how well CASUALTY dealt with the storyline, ‘I’m glad CASUALTY dealt with the aftermath so well. I don’t think it would be responsible to take advantage of a disaster like that without carrying it through and showing the repercussions.’
Kwame, 36, added that he would certainly let his children watch the show, ‘I don’t think we can really sensor all what children watch because these are really the realities of every day life,’ he explained. ‘I would certainly let my children watch it. I think its quite exciting that CASUALTY is able to take subject matters like this and treat it in the way that it has done. In particularly in the way it affects Comfort’s character with the whole trauma. I think we live in a news bite society where it’s ‘so and so died’ and then it’s yesterdays news and we never get to live with the trauma of what it causes, so its good that CASUALTY shows the after effects.’
For Kwame, CASUALTY is one of a variety of things keeping him occupied. The father of three to 11 year old Kwame Junior and 7 year old twins Oni and Kofi, he lives in London with his girlfriend Michelle – but spends a lot of his time travelling due to the various projects occupying his time.
‘Right now I’m on a high because of the success of my play, Elmina’s Kitchen, which opened at the Royal National Theatre last month,’ he says overjoyed. Kwame’s play was the critics choice in Time Out, Metro, The Evening Standard and The Guardian. Now The Standard and The Guardian want him to write for them and he’s got a West End musical script in the pipeline as well as a couple of TV scripts. ‘That was my absolute highlight. For a young black male from West London I would never have dreamed that I would be able to have a play on at the National and get five stars and be critics choice. It’s not just for me but for my community. Its important for children to see that we can all be successful.’
Kwame’s play opened hot on the heels of his runaway success in Comic Relief’s Celebrity Fame Academy, in which he won the nations hearts with his sweet soul singing. He was neck and neck with his Casualty co-star Will Mellor, and bowed out gracefully when Will won the final vote. He has since signed a record contract and is currently working on an album to include songs he’s written, amongst other soul numbers.
‘Fame Academy was great fun and very relaxing,’ he says. ‘As you know because I do several things – in Fame Academy I was stuck in one place, only doing one thing for a whole week – it was brilliant!’ and he still keeps in touch with fellow contestants. ‘I still speak to Ruby Wax quite often and obviously keep in contact with Will. Infact quite recently we all met up and went out for dinner which was great fun.’
But Kwame hasn’t let the success of Fame Academy go to his head, ‘I’m very much a today for today kind of a person. I do plan, but I think it would be mighty arrogant of me to think that I’d be going in there and coming out a star,’ he explains. ‘Obviously you don’t know how it’s going to go. What I did know was that if I did manage to survive three days then I may be able to go all of the way. But when you’re in there, you don’t know how many people are watching or how big it was going to be.’
‘I had no idea till after I had been released and people were screeching at me ‘You were robbed!’ and that I was being doorstepped by the press – When I came out four cars were following my car. They literally followed me for two days!’ but he remains grateful of the experience. ‘The great thing was I went in there with people thinking at best I was Fin from CASUALTY (maybe in normality just the black ambulance driver!) and came out as Kwame and whatever the by-products of that are I am extremely pleased about’
Martina doesn’t think he has changed at all and enjoyed seeing a different aspect of his talents ‘I’ve only worked with Kwame as an actor, so it was really interesting to see him as a performer’
But Kwame has lots on his mind, ‘‘My kids are occupying my mind. I don’t see very much of them at the moment, and when I do it’s no good telling them I’m tired because they need to play and catch up.’ Kwame is now planning the next phase of his life. ‘I’ve got to work out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. Elmina’s Kitchen going to the Hackney Empire and then on to Bath. I’ve also got my graduation coming up for my screenwriting masters degree, from the London College of Printing, which I’m very excited about.’ When asking in which direction Kwame feels he is leaning, he insists ‘Ideally I will continue to write and act because if I just write I’d be in all the time but with acting, I’m out in the buzz and soaking everything up and I need to keep using that side of my brain!’
He still sees a future in CASUALTY, ‘I see it going just how it is at the moment. Its not easy with such a busy schedule but it is achievable,’ he says ‘I wont commit to anything if people think when they’re watching it ‘oh well he wasn’t that good but it’s because he’s doing so many other things’ – I want to make sure I’m doing the best that I can, otherwise I wont take the project on. It’s about making sure I do them to the best of my ability’
Kwame joined CASUALTY in 1998 as paramedic Fin. We’ve seen a vulnerable side to him over recent years as he and Comfort have formed a special bond. His passion for his job of saving lives is reflected in his impatience with the bureaucratic paper-pushers who he feels don’t support him, and his temper has certainly worn thin on occasions. Although Fin is somewhat opinionated and moody, his humour increasingly shines through as he is the source of much joviality and he has also been a particular loyal friend to Josh during his break-up from Colette. ‘Apart from Derek and Ian, I have been here probably the longest and I have seen many cast members come and go,’ he says of his time on the show. ‘So in a way I have a responsibility in myself to not only try and fulfil my potential in whatever fields I do but to also give myself a bit of an insurance policy so that if for an instance they decide to kill Finn off, I would have other things to move on to! Its not my motivation for doing things but it’s good to know that other things might survive outside of CASUALTY’
Kwame has also managed to squeeze in a trip to Senegal, straight after the opening of Elmina’s Kitchen. He visited the country as a goodwill ambassador for Christian Aid in the week prior to a national event for Trade Justice in the UK. He went to investigate the effects of trade subsidies on farmers. ‘We met onion farmers who were working twice as hard for half the reward because Dutch onions were cheaper.’
Meanwhile, his co-star Martina, has also taken her hand to writing, ‘I’m writing a play in my spare time at the moment. It’s a great learning experience for me and I am really enjoying myself. I had some spare time on my hands and had this story knocking around in my head for years and the knocking was just getting louder so I thought I might as well get some peace to it and use my spare time so that at the end of the year I could go ‘right I got it out, here it is.’
The play is based on Trinidad’s experience of post war expressed through the lives of a brother and sister in the 50’s ‘I have written and produced a play of mine before. I don’t know what I’ll do with this one, though, but right now, it’s just a way for me to have fun. The cast on CASUALTY are great and very supportive, even helping out with an improvised workshop the other day which was a great laugh.’
Martina, who was born in the Port of Spain in Trinidad has also spent time tracing her roots, ‘I have been reflecting a lot on life and family and how patterns can repeat themselves throughout family lines, hence the importance of knowing your own history,’ she explains ‘I have made my home in the land of my father’s birth, but I realise how little I know of my other lineage. I have recently been using the internet to start finding ways of getting hold of information about so much of the personal history that has been lost through the Caribbean experience.’
Martina joined CASUALTY at the start of Series 16, and has seen her character develop immensely ‘Comfort has become even more independent over Series 17. Having left her husband, she has faced life on her own for the first time. She moved into her own little flat and consolidated her friendships, for instance she was able to be there for Colette, when her own marriage broke up. Her relationship with Fin was tested by the realities of life, and they were able to survive and develop a strong, comfortable and loving bond with eachother.’
Martina’s character was also involved in the Hitting Home episodes last series which confronted the issues of domestic violence, which Martina was proud to be a part of. ‘I was really happy to have done that because I was part of something outside of my experience here as an actor. So it was very rewarding,’ she says. ‘It made me a part of something that was on such a huge scale and effects peoples lives so I really do believe to participate in something like that I could help change people.’
‘I was happy to be part of that and the statistics that were coming back to me through the exchanges I had with people brings you back to reality’