Tag Archives: Verity Quinn

The Ballad of Maria Marten

The Ballad of Maria Marten


Wilton’s Music Hall

The Ballad of Maria Marten

The Ballad of Maria Marten

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 15th February 2022



An undoubtedly compelling and timely story, told with a fine balance of edge and heartiness


“It’s been a year since I died and still nobody’s found me.”

There’s a reason murders are generally told from the perspective of the murderer, obviously because the victim isn’t there to tell it. So Beth Flintoff’s The Ballad of Maria Marten is necessarily told from the grave. Based on a true story, Maria Marten herself guides us through the loves, heartbreaks and societal failings that led to her violent death.

I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of Maria Marten, or the Red Barn murder as it’s otherwise known. Particularly so as that’s where my partner is from, and apparently that’s what the tiny village of Polstead is largely known for. That and cherries.

In fact, it’s been a popular story since the days of the trial in 1827, with songs written about it- one by Tom Waits- and multiple TV, film and radio adaptations. But under Hal Chambers’ direction, this production has taken a lot of risks in order to contemporise, the first and most overt being there are no men in the cast. Not only that, whilst Maria’s former lovers are played as bit-parts by the all-female cast, William Corder doesn’t even get a look-in, remaining an off-stage character throughout. This is especially interesting because, as with most tales of murder, adaptations and retellings have been largely focused on him over her.

Accents are all over the shop which does get to be quite distracting- there’s a little west country, a little generic northern, some south London, even a bit of Irish, often combined in a single sentence. But the performances themselves are generally strong. The cast at their most powerful as a chorus: As the title suggests, the story is punctuated with ballads, sung in tight six-part harmonies. These are some of the tenderest and most affecting moments, giving the sense that whilst women like Maria have been largely lost to history, there is in their place a kind of communal voice of mourning. This is amplified by synchronised intakes of breath that feel as though Maria’s plight belongs to a multitude.

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about adults playing children, and there’s a lot of it going round at the moment- The Book of Dust at the Bridge Theatre comes to mind, with a twelve-year old being played by a twenty-something. I do see the necessity in this case: they’re children for very little of the story, so it’d be a waste to double the cast. Regardless, it’s near impossible to do well and feels a bit embarrassing.

Verity Quinn’s costumes and set are kept fairly traditional: a dilapidated barn wall looms over the stage throughout and the cast all sport bonnets and aprons. The story’s contemporary slant generally sits comfortably against this conventional backdrop, but there is some anachronism that doesn’t feel quite right. One of the characters, for example, is an empowered woman who loves sex and whose children each have a different father. I understand the impetus to modernise in this way, but it feels particularly bizarre given that Maria suffers the harsh judgement of the village for having children out of wedlock herself.

The ending too feels uncomfortably positive, where a more truthfully bleak conclusion would have better served the point of the story. That being said, it’s hard to keep an audience hooked when they know from the get who was murdered and, half-way through by whom, which this production does. An undoubtedly compelling and timely story, told with a fine balance of edge and heartiness.



Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Mike Kwasniak


The Ballad of Maria Marten

Wilton’s Music Hall until 19th February then UK Tour continues. See www.mariamarten.com for details


Recently reviewed at this venue:
Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021


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Masterpieces – 2 Stars



Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 27th April 2018


“the empty stage makes it difficult not to disengage with the narrative at every scene change”


Behind sheets of plastic that reflect red lighting, magazine covers that feature naked women are plastered across the walls. This is the backdrop to our narrative, a revival of Sarah Daniels’ radical play ‘Masterpieces’ first produced in 1983, which discusses the possible ramifications of the casual consumption of porn on everyday society and the way that women are viewed and treated as a result of that. We begin at a dinner party where three women endure their husbands sharing rape jokes, sparking Rowena’s own investigation into porn and its effect on the way men see women, with extreme consequences.

Olivia Darnley plays Rowena and delivers a standout performance, tight, energetic and committed. Darnley approaches the role with a fantastic balance of warmth and strength, and doesn’t waste a word of this well-written script. Rob Ostlere is strong as Yvonne’s horrible husband, but otherwise the male characters are one dimensional, not helped by predominantly weak performances. Sophie Doherty’s Jennifer starts promisingly but quickly becomes generalised and undecided in her character choices and uncertain in her movement. Doherty also has a tendency to swallow her words so that we lose moments of comedy in the text. Whilst Tessie Orange-Turner has some lovely moments, she stumbles over her words and seems to be constantly ‘acting’, so it is increasingly difficult to believe in or empathise with her, a trap that many of the actors fall into in this production.

Melissa Dunne’s directorial choices are clumsy and lack detail. Full wine glasses are refilled and the same pile of laundry is unfolded and refolded before our eyes over and over again. In multiple scenes there is an overuse of movement with no reason behind it, people sitting down and standing up, or even circling the stage in what is clearly a device, rather than a character motivated movement. The scene changes are achingly long, often ten seconds of wasted empty stage for no apparent reason as we listen to music of the era. Whilst music early on helps set the scene, the continued use of it between every scene change (of which there are many) is ineffective, protracted and grating, and the empty stage makes it difficult not to disengage with the narrative at every scene change. Whilst the set design (by Verity Quinn) is visually appealing it adds little to the narrative itself, and is unhelpful when it comes to scene changes.

Reviving this play in a relevant way is no easy feat as the conversation has moved on so far from the concrete anti-porn message of the piece. Daniels’ narrative insists on a direction correlation between violence and pornographic images and films, and dismisses any idea that women might enjoy sex, sex toys and pornography themselves. It is not the nuanced discussions we are used to surrounding these topics today, however Daniels’ play still has the potential to be topical and contemporary in its portrayal of rape culture, and the empowering narratives of four women refusing to accept cheating husbands and abusive bosses as the norm. However Dunne’s direction does not push this piece far enough, and it falls short of what it could achieve.

‘Masterpieces’ is a disappointing revival of a well-written and potentially extremely topical and exciting play, let down by weak, over-acted performances and ineffective directorial choices.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Bill Prentice



Finborough Theatre until 19th May


Previously at this venue
Returning to Haifa | ★★★★ | March 2018
Checkpoint Chana | ★★★★ | March 2018
White Guy on the Bus | ★★★★ | March 2018


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