Play celebrating life of Red Barn Murders victim is to go on the road

The award winning Ballad of Maria Marten is returning to theatres across the country 

The award winning Ballad of Maria Marten is returning to theatres across the country - Credit: Harry Elletson

A play telling the story of one of Suffolk's most notorious murders is returning to stages across the UK this spring.

The critically-acclaimed Ballad of Maria Marten focuses in on the life of the woman murdered in the Red Barn in the summer of 1827. 

Produced by the Eastern Angles and Matthew Linley, it tackles themes of domestic abuse and female comradery.

The Ballad of Maria Marten focuses on the victims life, rather than her murder 

The Ballad of Maria Marten focuses on the victims life, rather than her murder - Credit: Harry Elletson

Author Beth Flintoff said the story spoke about problems that still plague society.

"Eleven women died at the hands of their partners during the first three weeks of lockdown," she said.

"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, about the infamous murder of a woman, but now the story is told from her point of view.

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"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."


The play hopes to show the power and joy that can be found in female camaraderie - Credit: Tony Bartholomew

Director Hal Chambers, who has just finished two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, added: "At the beginning of The Ballad of Maria Marten writer Beth Flintoff's stage direction tells us that Maria's best friends ‘unmurder’ her and that is exactly what we are trying to do with this production.

"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, searing music and a swirl of passion, The Ballad of Maria Marten stars a dazzling all-female ensemble."


Maria is played by Elizabeth Crarer, who performed in Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and Macbeth and Matilda the Empress, with Rabble Theatre Company

Featuring actors Elizabeth Crarer, Jessica Dives, Susie Barrett and Sarah Goddard, the play will be running at the Colchester Mercury, on February 8-9, and then will be returning to East Anglia to play the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft and the New Wolsey in Ipswich where they will be performing on March 1-2 and 17-19 respectively. 

Find out more here.

What was The Red Barn Murder?

The Ballad of Maria Marten is based on a real murder which happened in 1827.

Maria Marten, daughter of molecatcher Thomas Marten, lived with her family in Polstead, Suffolk.

In 1826, aged 24, she formed a relationship with William Corder, the son of a local farmer. Corder already had a reputation as a ladies man and fraudster.

Corder wished to keep his relationship with Marten secret, despite the fact she gave birth to his child in 1827, and was apparently keen to marry Corder. 

The child died — with later reports indicating that it might have been murdered — but Maria still wanted to go ahead with the wedding.

On May 18, 1827 Corder arrived at the Marten cottage, where he told the family that the parish constables were coming to arrest Maria for having bastard children. 

He suggested she dress as a man, and meet him in the Red Barn, where she could put her own clothes back on and they could elope to Ipswich together.

This was the last time she was ever seen alive.

Corder also disappeared, but later turned up, claiming Marten was in Ipswich, and they couldn't return together as his friends and relatives would be annoyed.

The pressure on the man to produce his wife increased, and he gave various excuses as to why she hadn't written — saying she'd been ill, hurt her hand — before the pressure to say where she was forced him to leave again. 

As suspicion began to grow Maria's stepmother claimed she had dreams that Maria had been murdered and buried in Red Barn.

She convinced her husband Thomas to go and dig through a grain silo and his daughters body, partially decomposed, emerged. 

Corder's green handkerchief was found around her neck.

The local constable and a member of the London Police began to investigate, and traced Corder to a boarding house he was running in London with his new wife. 

Corder was arrested and a later search revealed a pair of pistol — supposedly bought on the day of the crime — some letters which may have been warning him about the murder investigation and a passport from the French ambassador. 

Corder was taken back to Bury St Edmunds where he was put on trial for murder.

Defending himself, he admitted to being in the barn with Marten, but said they had argued and he had left, after which he heard a gunshot and returned to find her dead. 

The jury only took 35 minutes to reach a guilty verdict and Corder was sentenced to be hanged, dissected, and anatomized.

It is estimated somewhere between 7,000 and 20,000 people turned up to watch his execution.

The following day, the dissection was carried out in front of physicians and students from Cambridge University.

Following the dissection, Corder's skin was tanned, and used to bind an account of the murder.

His skeleton was taken to west Suffolk hospital, where it was used as a teaching aid.