The Ballad of Maria Marten at Wilton’s Music Hall
Based on the 1827 real-life murder mystery that intrigued the whole nation and inspired countless fictional retellings over the years, The Ballad of Maria Marten revisits the tragic event known as the Red Barn Murder. One day young Maria went missing from her town, sparking rumours and concern, and it was a year before her body was found bearing multiple injuries inflicted with various weapons. Although the story attracted plenty of attention, playwright Beth Flintoff and director Hal Chambers feel that, with all the sensationalism surrounding the gruesome details of the murder, Maria herself ended up becoming a mere victim rather than a young woman with her own personal story and dignity.
Unfolding in the rural village of Polstead, Suffolk, the musical show begins with a scene that Flintoff describes in her stage directions as the “un-murdering” of Maria. The protagonist, played by Elizabeth Crarer, presents herself on stage as a corpse, with mortal wounds marring her body. Her lifelong friends gather around her and begin to clean her up while she speaks directly to the audience. By addressing the public’s grim fascination with the murder immediately, the story can move on to form a three-dimensional picture of Maria and the lives of the women around her. Her murderer is reduced to a shadow as the audience’s attention is drawn to her joys, struggles and sheer determination to keep going in spite of the many adversities she faced.
The show is brought to life by a brilliant all-female cast, combining songs, sounds, dialogues and movement harmoniously and effectively. There is a slight dissonance in the overall tone, and the play concludes by wrapping up its social message in too direct a manner, shouting it out as a manifesto rather than trusting it to transpire through the action. Aside from these points, the cast carry the drama effortlessly and bring real feeling to their characters’ predicaments, making the show dynamic and compelling.
An overdue, unapologetically feminist take on Maria Marten’s tale, the play is a warm and powerful tribute to all women who were, and still are, wronged by an unequal system.
Photo: Tony Bartholomew
The Ballad of Maria Marten is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 15th February until 19th February 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.