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Review: Polstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles, Ipswich Waterfront, then touring until August 5.

PUBLISHED: 10:58 14 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:58 14 July 2018

Polstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Polstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Mike Kwasniak Photography, 2018 - www.mikekwasniak.co.uk

Maria Marten and the Murder in the Red Barn is one of the most enduring parts of Suffolk folklore. It's a story that has been told, re-told, adapted, sung and staged countless times over the centuries and you would think that there is nothing more to say about this infamous crime. You would be wrong.

Polstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike KwasniakPolstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Beth Flintoff’s dazzling new play Polstead, bursting with life and energy, re-visits the scene of the crime and introduces the audience to Maria Marten and her gaggle of friends and family.

Played by an exceptionally strong all-female cast, we get to Maria as a person rather than a victim. Her personality traits have been pieced together from contemporary records and from newspaper accounts from the period. She emerges as a lively, literate and feisty girl, then young woman, capable, dependable and someone who you would enjoy spending time with.

Beth, the cast of Elizabeth Crarer (as Maria), Lydia Bakelmun, Sarah Goddard, Lucy Grattan, Bethan Nash and Roxanne Palmer and director Hal Chambers succeed in creating a wonderfully intimate world where these people spent their lives. Travelling to Hadleigh was an event – going to market in Colchester or Ipswich was an adventure.

Polstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike KwasniakPolstead, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

This is a play all about personalities and characters. Maria and her friends are clearly the focus. There are only two male characters that make it onto the stage, Thomas Corder and Peter Matthews, and they played with well-observed precision by Lucy Grattan and Bethan Nash. William Corder, who doesn’t enter the story until second half, may not step upon the stage but he makes his presence felt.

We see his influence in character changes in Maria, who, reeling from an enforced broken engagement to love-of-her-life, Peter Matthews, is seduced by him and gradually loses her lively, independent spirit and becomes a nervous, doubting, truly tragic figure.

Elizabeth Crarer delivers a towering central performance making Maria an engaging, articulate lovable person. She narrates her own story, taking us back and forth through episodes in her life and introducing us to her friends and her world.

Director Hal Chambers staging is inventive, using a minimal barn façade and a movable set of timbers and rafters to suggest home and other locations in the village. The pacing is swift and the play is laced with some lovely humour and some great songs from composer Luke Potter.

This has to be not only one of the best theatre experiences of the year but one of the best shows that Eastern Angles has ever staged. It’s on the waterfront in Ipswich until July 15, at Semer (July 26- 28), and at Debach (July 31-August 5) – make time to see it. You won’t regret it.

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