Last Updated on February 17, 2022
The Ballad of Maria Marten graces Wilton’s Music Hall on tour
In the summer of 1827, Maria Marten awaits her lover in a red barn. One year later, her body is found underneath the flooring in a grain sack, and the manhunt begins. This thrilling retelling of a real-life murder mystery, critically-acclaimed The Ballad of Maria Marten, goes on tour across the country as a clarion call for an equal and safe society.
Produced by Eastern Angles and Matthew Linley Creative Projects, Beth Flintoff’s captivating drama delves into an exploration of love, loss, trauma, and patriarchal power via Maria Marten’s story. This timely production, following how eleven women died at the hands of their partners during the first three weeks of lockdown, highlights the dangers lurking behind closed doors as the country emerges from the pandemic with domestic abuse rates higher than ever before. In 2021, the news of Sarah Everard’s murder at the hands of a policeman left Britain in shock which means that Maria Marten’s story is sadly still relevant today.
Focussing on Maria’s life rather than death, Flintoff covers these poignant and painful themes with expressive sensitivity as the winner of a 2021 MGC futures Bursary for theatre-makers of the future. The story hopes to showcase the power and joy that can be found in female camaraderie with its all-female cast, some of whom double as male characters at times. Told from Maria’s point of view, the audience gets to see who she loved, what she laughed about, and what she does when she’s having fun. Thankfully, there’s no violence on stage.
The play starts with the ghost of murdered Maria, played by Elizabeth Crarer, in man’s clothes and holding a tattered umbrella speaking directly to the audience about her murder in the barn. As she tells the audience that she lived a life before she was murdered, her friends appear and collectively clean and dress her to her former living glory.
We meet Phoebe Stowe, depicted by Jessica Dives, as Elizabeth’s best friend living down the road. We also get to meet Lucy Baalham, portrayed by Susie Barrett, as a young girl who is trying to learn how to make fire from stone on her mother’s orders. Sarah Stowe, embodied by Hanora Kamen, is the first of the group to kiss a boy and get pregnant. Theresa Havers, depicted by Bethan Nash, completes the crew to form the Hazard Club, a friendship group that performs silly feats such as walking backwards.
We also get to meet Ann Marten, brilliantly portrayed by Sarah Goddard, Maria’s stepmother, who has dreams about Maria’s murder and eventually digs out Maria’s corpse underneath the barn.
Maria’s life is marked with poverty, at a time when there were few jobs and the prospect of starving was imminent. As a result, Maria turns to Thomas Corder (Susie Barrett) for food after her father loses his job, in return for physical favours which eventually get her pregnant. Unfortunately, her child dies. Salvation from heartbreak comes in the form of Peter Matthews, played by Bethan Nash, who genuinely loves Maria for who she is and proposes. Regrettably, the classist society in the 19th century forbade them to marry, so Maria is once again left to be a single mother. Being a gentleman, Peter regularly sent sums of money to Maria to support their child.
Maria finally meets William Corder, who doesn’t appear on stage, but is widely talked about and is found to be guilty of killing Maria. Throughout Maria’s life, her circle of friends remain loyal to her and help her get through various hardships. Post mortem, they band together to testify against William Corder and bring justice.
Throughout the production, Luke Potter’s score keeps up with the period with each song marking a moment of joy, solidarity or hardship. The six women sing in harmony to mark the emotional moments in life together. The scene changes were also choreographed to mark quick changes in scenarios and hasten the pace of storytelling.
Director Hal Chambers says that nearly 200 years on, he hopes to let Maria and her friends finally have a voice and speak to a post-lockdown audience about these issues resurfacing today. Maria Marten pauses after one scene describing her emotional abuse at the hands of William Corder and says to the audience ‘Will you stop me and tell me something’s wrong and to get out?’ I certainly will do to any modern-day Maria Martens I meet after being reminded of what could happen if I don’t.
Wilton’s Music Hall
1 Graces Aly, London E1 8JB
February 15 – 19
£12.50 – £27
Other venues for performances are as follows:
22nd – 23rd February Malvern Theatres
Grange Road, Great Malvern, Malvern WR14 3HB
25th – 26th February Ustinov Studio
1 Sawclose, Bath BA1 1ET
1st – 2nd March Marina Theatre
Marina, Lowestoft NR32 1HH
4th – 5th March The Haymarket
Wote Street, Basingstoke RG21 7NW
8th – 12th March Exeter Northcott Theatre
Stocker Road, Exeter EX4 4QB
17th – 19th March New Wolsey Theatre
Civic Drive, Ipswich IP1 2AS
22nd – 26th March Oldham Coliseum Theatre
Fairbottom Street, Oldham OL1 3SW
29th March – 2nd April Theatre by the Lake
Lakeside, Lake Road, Keswick CA12 5DJ