GOODBYE Polstead, say hello to The Ballad Of Maria Marten, the new name for Beth Flintoff’s captivating drama that first toured in 2018.
Directed by Hal Chambers in tandem with Ivan Cutting, an all-female cast will embark on a spring tour next month, starting off at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre before touring to Ipswich and Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Elizabeth Crarer returns to the title role for this re-telling of a real-life Suffolk murder mystery in Summer 1827.
In a red barn, Maria Marten awaits her lover. A year later, her body is found under the floor of the barn in a grain sack, barely identifiable, and the manhunt begins.
Maria’s story sent shock waves throughout the country. The Red Barn Murder, as it became known, was national news, inspiring writers and filmmakers down the ages.
Here was the sort of gruesome tale that had all the hallmarks of a classic crime drama: a missing body, a country location, a disreputable squire and a village stuck in its age-old traditions.
However, amid all the hysteria, Maria’s own story becomes lost – until now. Chambers and Flintoff’s spine-tingling re-telling rediscovers her tale, bringing it back to vivid, urgent life.
Joining Crarer’s Maria in the cast will be Suzanne Ahmet, who SJT audiences may remember from her appearances there with Northern Broadsides in Hard Times and They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, together with Emma Denly, Jessica Dives, Sarah Goddard, and Susanna Jennings.
Flintoff, a freelance playwright and theatre director from Hampshire, says: “As soon as I was approached to write the story of Maria Marten, I was intrigued. I hadn’t heard about her murder but was fascinated to hear about not just the story itself, but how it has been told to us.
“From the moment of the trial, the focus was on the murderer, not Maria. No-one seemed to be looking carefully at the intricacies of her life, beyond the basics. So, I wanted to tell the story entirely from her point of view.
“We are often presented with stories of women as ‘victims’, rather than as interesting, complicated people who had hopes and dreams, friends and lives of their own.”
The 2020 production is produced by Eastern Angles Theatre Company and Matthew Linley Creative Projects, in association with the SJT. Producer Matthew Linley says: “This thrilling true-life tale is as joyful as it is murderous. I’m delighted to be working with Eastern Angles and the Stephen Joseph Theatre to bring Polstead back to life as The Ballad Of Maria Marten.”
Eastern Angles specialise in combining heritage with theatre to make regional stories and hidden histories come to life on stage.
The Ballad Of Maria Marten will run in the Round at the SJT from February 11 to 15 at 7.30pm nightly, plus matinees at 1.30pm on February 13 and 2.30pm on February 15. Tickets, priced from £10, are on sale on 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.