The Red Barn murder in 1827 took place in Polstead, Suffolk it’s the notorious tale about Maria Marten who was brutally shot dead by her partner William Corder. Whose motives were premeditated and he continued to pretend she was still alive on The Isle of Wight for a year afterward her murder, until her remains were finally discovered under the grain bags in the barn.
The Ballad of Maria Marten by Beth Flintoff tells the harrowing tale of Maria Marten (Elizabeth Crarar) through the eyes of the victim. Martens entrance onto the stage takes the audience by surprise, the lights in the auditorium are still up and her entrance is slow and thoughtful as she looks around the audience with a deathly stare before starting to tell her sad and harrowing tale.
There’s no secret to the fact that she has been shot and brutally murdered from the outset. What we are about to discover as the tale unfolds is who committed this mindless crime and why.
Although there are nine characters within the play including two men. The cast of six accomplishes all the roles between them brilliantly. Susie Barrett bringing Thomas Corder into Martens life along with Peter Matthews played by Bethan Nash. The two male roles just require a small amount of suspending your disbelief.
Crarar offers outstanding performance in her role as Marten. The body language she exhibits in the second Act when she relives the violent and abusive outrages from William Corder is hard-hitting and although she is alone on the stage you can envisage the abuser in front of her carrying out the heinous acts while she recoils in fear.
Set in the early nineteenth century women had very little power, money or status in their own right. Marten was used by two of the three men in her life for her body. Each offering her a taste of another life to get their way and each one failing her badly and leaving her “holding the baby”. Falling pregnant for many years as a single woman left them open to blame and ridicule. With the situation, always their fault and the men involved were never to blame.
Director Hal Chambers and producer Mtthew Linley have bought Flintoff’s book to life and treated Marten with the respect and dignity she had deserved during her life. Bringing love and laughter along the way as she rejoices with her friends at times as they genuinely make the most of their lives.
The Red Barn comes to a dramatic end with impressive lighting effects by Zoe Spurr. The spectacular scene brings closure and a feeling of peace and respect to the memory of Marten by her beloved friends.
Sadly, domestic violence hasn’t become part of our history books. Figures reported by the Independent are estimated that two women a week are killed at the hands of their abuser, the full article is available below. Each of these victims has a story just like Marten that deserves to be heard.
Performing at the Theatre Royal Winchester until 8th October 2021 and touring until Spring 2022.
Photos by Tony Bartholomew.