The Ballad of Maria Marten
By Beth Flintoff Directed by Hal Chambers
Review by David Bithell
This glowing, compassionate production tells the historical true story about the Red Barn murder in Suffolk. Beth Flintoff tells the story of Maria Marten, who was shot in 1827 in the village of Polstead. She was buried for a year before her remains were found. This play mainly focuses on her life rather than her her gruesome death, at the same time Flintoff restores some much needed dignity to Maria, who became the grim fascination of public gossip after her murder and of course the red barn.
With a unique all-female cast, the play is unexpectedly joyous and there are a lot of songs throughout as the story unfolds. We see the struggles of being a poor woman in the early 19th century – money problems, zero contraception and trying to be accepted in society. The joy, laughter and dance within the play goes side by side next to the dread, grief and violence, which unfolds. We do have the pleasure of getting to see a happy Maria. Elizabeth Crarer plays her with great wit and a fierce aggressiveness; she is both easy to love, and quick to love others.
This is not a play about a murder, nor do we have to piece things together; we do not even get to meet the man who did it. In the main, this is a story of female friendship and togetherness. There are moments in the play of Hal Chambers’ gentle direction reverberate, at the beginning, women wiping blood from Maria’s face, doing her hair, holding her hand. There is a warm glow within the round as they sing to her, bathing her in comfort; it is the women who are always at hand who look out for her during her short life and who keep looking for her after her death.
Beth Flintoff has rewritten the play expertly with a lovely narrative. Instead of focusing on the brutal murder, we see strong, loyal women fighting back and showing their true worth by ending selfish gossip and destroying the focal point, the red barn.
The Ballad of Maria Marten runs until Saturday 29th February.
Box office 01782 717 962