Review by Evie Nicol


History is turned on its head in Beth Flintoff and Hal Chambers’ The Ballad of Maria Marten, a feminist retelling of the infamous Red Barn Murder of 1827. Instead of focusing on her fatal shooting at the hands of her lover and her year spent undiscovered beneath the barn, as the media always did, Flintoff sheds light on Maria’s life from childhood to her untimely death. The result is a poignant and captivating production which finally gives a voice to a witty, caring and joyous young woman. Flintoff respects Maria from start to finish; we never even meet her murderer.


The all-female cast is astounding; Elizabeth Crarer as Maria and Sarah Goddard as Maria’s stepmother, Ann, are standouts. Crarer does an incredible job of flitting seamlessly between happy flashbacks and the grim present. This close juxtaposition of her eventual murder against glorious singalongs with her close friends is heart wrenching and really elevates this production on an emotional level. Goddard’s portrayal of Ann’s discovery of her beloved stepdaughter’s remains shrouded the theatre in a dreadful silence, punctuated only by her guttural screams. It is an awe inspiring depiction of grief that I’m sure I won’t forget for a long time. Performances like these ensure that audiences feel the loss of Maria as if she were a close friend.


Hal Chambers’ direction is clearly carefully considered and is therefore very effective. The lighting is something I particularly noticed, as the set allows light to pour through the barn’s wooden slats as it would naturally. Another unforgettable moment is early on, when Maria’s friends clean her injuries, fix her hair and clothes, care for her and sing lovingly to her as they do it. Luke Potter’s score fits into these moments like a glove, meaning that even simple costume changes do not disrupt the momentum of the production. In fact, they add to it.

What should be a bleak and despondent story is actually one of female love and friendship, with perfectly placed humour providing the necessary lift even in its darkest moments. The witty dynamic between characters is infectious and all these joyful moments build to a powerful and moving conclusion. Seeing the Red Barn, the location of Maria’s murder, go up in flames as Sarah (played by Lydia Bakelmun) delivers a proud and empowering speech about women’s voices was perfectly touching. It was a wonderful way to end the production.


This play is a real gem, one that carries with it an important and empowering message. The writing, direction, performances and set combine beautifully to create a memorable, authentic and striking production, one which I would rush to see again. Bravo to all involved.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Evie Nicol is a 22 year old English Literature and Creative Writing graduate based in Cheltenham. After finishing her studies at Cardiff University, she is keen for any writing or editing experience to kickstart a dream career in the publishing industry. She particularly enjoys any story-based media: books, plays, films and even video games. If you are interested in her writing and would like a review from her, please contact: nicol_evie@yahoo.co.uk.