Friday, 18 February 2022

REVIEW: The Ballad of Maria Marten at Wilton’s Music Hall

If I could give this show 10 stars, I would. It’s a one in a million. So rare is theatre this extraordinarily imaginative, masterfully crafted, exquisitely performed and poignantly relevant. 

Beth Flintoff’s The Ballard of Maria Marten was first staged in 2018 and has since been in development with two further casts. We are privy to four years of maturation and it is as compelling and gripping as theatre can be. Every note perfectly pitched, each harmony as tuneful as a room full of angels, each movement elegant and eloquent, every inch of the stage fully inhabited and the character and the world of Maria Marten, fully realised. 

There have been many reiterations of this story, of the brutal and gruesome murder of Maria Marten by her husband William Corder in 1827, the first only a year later when it appeared in a local tabloid, selling over a million copies. Since then, the story took on a life of its own and fact and fiction soon became a muddle of speculation. Most of the books, musicals, plays and films about Maria and her story, don’t focus on her. Instead, they focus on Corder, the murderer. Played by an all-female cast of six, Beth Flintoff’s version directed by Hal Chambers, focuses entirely on Maria’s story, with two of the male characters played by the women and the murderer himself, just a terrifying, shadowy force, wreaking havoc and destruction by his inescapable presence in Maria’s psyche. 

There could be no better venue than Wilton’s Music Hall, its History and atmosphere, placing the audience into the very heart of the world of the play. The play starts at the end with the house lights up, Maria is played triumphantly by Elizabeth Crarer, who steps out onto the stage and tells us bluntly what occurred. Confronted and accountable are we, the audience, as we watch the story unfold from the beginning, with Maria and her friends as 10-year-olds. 

It's a Greek tragedy in two halves with an inspired musical score by Luke Potter and a sophisticated, beautiful and masterful movement and choreographic language by Rebecca Randall and Katie Albion, which captures the saltiness, majesty and interconnectedness of the period and the friendships. I must linger here on the movement. It breathed. Through movement, the stage was alive, it carved out moments, which became memories. In the second half watching Maria walk across the stage, I was reminded of her as a child in the first half. At this moment, her demise moved me more tangibly and painfully than words. Childbirth, childhood games, fieldwork and festivals, death by drowning and the invisible threads which link friends, were all in the movement. The ensemble breathed and the page was turned and the next chapter of the story began. It expressed so powerfully, how a community is palpably affected by the tragedy. 

The cast (Hanora Kamen, Susie Barrett, Jessica Dives, Sarah Goddard and Bethan Nash) played multiple roles seamlessly and beautifully, each committing every fibre of their being, generously to the moment, these people’s lives were fully brought to the stage, honouring who they once were. Not a single character is underrepresented nor side-lined.

It was one of those special nights when we knew that we, as the audience, had shared something truly magical. Don’t miss it. 

Review by Mandy Gordon

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: L7 | Price of Ticket: Full price: £27

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