Several versions of the story of Maria Marten and The Murder in the Red Barn have been seen on stage and film over the last century. The story was a popular late-Victorian melodrama (based on a true-life murder in Suffolk in the 1820s) and the onset of the movies led to no less than five different screen retellings up to the mid-1930s.
The latest stage version, by Ipswich-based Eastern Angles and Matthew Linley Creative Projects, comes to Oldham Coliseum in mid-March (22-26) with critical and public acclaim ringing in the wings for the way writer Beth Flintoff has retold the Suffolk folk tale, taking it out of the realms of melodrama at last.
Also touring to Theatre by the Lake in Keswick (March 29-April 2), Ballad relates events in the summer of 1827, when Maria Marten awaits her lover in the local red barn. She isn't seen again until her body is found buried under the floor there, and a manhunt begins.
The production is one of two shows at the Coliseum in March offering two-for-one tickets under the National Lottery's Love Your Local Theatre campaign.
Focusing on Maria’s life rather than her death, the acclaimed adaptation brings Maria’s perspective to the fore and even ventures in the feminist sphere as a warning of the dangers lurking behind closed doors as the country emerges from the pandemic with domestic abuse rates higher than ever before.
Flintoff – a former Bruntwood Prize long-list contender and winner of a MGCfutures Bursary for theatre-makers last year – covers her themes with expressive sensitivity.
The all-female cast includes Elizabeth Crarer as Maria Marten, Jessica Dives, Susie Barrett and Sarah Goddard, and is directed by Hal Chambers – who for the past couple of years has been directing with the RSC.
Beth Flintoff said: “Eleven women died at the hands of their partners during the first three weeks of lockdown, and it's never been more important for us to consider and celebrate the lives of those that society does not manage to protect.
"This is an old story, now told from Maria's point of view. I wanted to focus on who Maria was: who she loved, what she laughed about and what she does when she's having fun. I didn’t want her to be a victim anymore, so there is no violence onstage.”
Hal Chambers added: “Nearly 200 years on, we hope to let Maria and her friends finally have a voice - and what emerges, especially post-lockdown, is a play for our times told in vivid movement, music and a swirl of passion.”
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