Set in the 1820’s, writer Beth Flintoff and Artistic Director Ivan Cutting were keen to tell this age-old story of the death of Maria Marten from the viewpoint of the victim. The story has been told in many ways previously, but tended to look at the murderer, William Corder, rather than taking an interest in Maria Marten’s life.
Maria (Elizabeth Crarer), lived in a small rural village called Polstead where she had grown up in poverty losing her mother at an early age. This led to her looking after the house at age 10, until her father met and married Ann (Sarah Goddard) who was kindly and took over many of these tasks, so that Maria could finally have a childhood. She played with her friends who formed a club called the ‘hazard club’, in which they dared each other to do things, but most of all these girls would become Maria’s lifelong friends. The play gives an insight into how women of the day, who had no fortune to tempt a suitor, were very often used for men’s enjoyment, and then labelled a whore if they became with child. It is with this in mind, that this play throws a spotlight onto how easy it was to fall victim to domestic violence at a time when women had no rights.
The opening scene centres on Maria, dressed as she died, begins by telling us about her death. Crarer’s heart wrenching description of her death is powerful as she proclaims, that she is just a woman and not a murder victim. The cleansing of her body, wiping it clean of the stage makeup that evoked her status of a murder victim, and dressing her in clothes of the day, helps the focus to move onto the story of Maria’s life, that led up to her death.
Maria’s friends, Sarah (Hanora Kamen) who was continually pregnant; Lucy (Susie Barrett) who also attracted William Corder’s eye; Phoebe (Jessica Dives); and Theresa (Bethan Nash) who was also a victim of violence from her husband. These ladies help to tell the tale from their childhood friendship through to the trial of William Corder, for Maria’s murder.
The ballads that were intermittently weaved into the play, were beautifully performed and helped to give it a country feel, whilst adding another layer to the story. Director Hal Chambers very cleverly incorporates the barn where Maria died, into the set design, which; as the resting place of Maria; is always in the background, reminding us that her life story end there. The music and movement by Luke Potter and Rebecca Randall make the visual and acoustics the centre of the play, as the girls dance and sing together and have moments of friendship and happiness, this really helps with the narrative. The writing is clever, the injections of humour help to lift the somewhat dark nature of the story, whilst focusing our attention on the plight of Maria, and her attempts to find happiness, we see how she is dashed at every turn.
We regularly hear about domestic violence in the news, which explains why this story is still relevant. This may be a historical, much talked about tale, but the spectre of domestic violence still hangs over women today and this play helps to throw a spotlight on the subject. It is well worth taking the time to go over to Wilton’s Music Hall or at another venue on the tour, as it is well written, curated and performed.
The play is currently touring, and for further information about the play go to https://www.mariamarten.com/ To book tickets to the show at Wilton’s Music Hall go to https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson which runs until the 19th February, so catch it quick!
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 15th February 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★