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Review: Maria Marten is reborn in stunning show. Grab last tickets

PUBLISHED: 10:38 22 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:38 22 February 2020

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

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

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

Review: The Ballad of Maria Marten, by Beth Flintoff, New Wolsey Theatre, until February 22

The Ballad of Maria Marten, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten, played by Elizabeth Crarer,  and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike KwasniakThe Ballad of Maria Marten, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of Maria Marten, played by Elizabeth Crarer, and her murder in the Red Barn. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

One of the greatest things about theatre is that it is completely ephemeral. You witness a magical evening, have greatness displayed in front of you and as soon as the applause dies down it is gone.

You can't capture it, you can't bottle it and you can't re-visit it. It can only live on in your memory. It is one of the defining characteristics of theatre and also one of its most frustrating attributes. But, once in a while, a production is remounted with much the same cast, the same direction and same set. On those rare occasions you can go back.

It's like stepping back in time and being able to revisit long lost summers as a youth. You wonder were they as warm and carefree as you remember them? When it happens with theatre you have the same worries. Will lightning strike twice? Will that production that you raved about to your friends be as spectacular or as moving as it was when you saw it for the first time.

This is the situation we find ourselves in with The Ballad of Maria Marten, by Beth Flintoff, staged by Eastern Angles, but being performed as part of a nationwide tour at the New Wolsey Theatre.

Maria Marten started life 18 months ago with the title Polstead and was staged in a marquee on Ipswich Waterfront before going on tour to community centres, barns and village halls in and around Suffolk.

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Polstead was not only one of the best pieces of theatre I saw that year but I rate it as one of the best shows that Eastern Angles has ever produced. No wonder it was ripe for a remount and a UK tour.

From the original cast Elizabeth Crarer and Sarah Goddard return as the ill-fated Maria and her supportive (at times psychic) step-mother Annie while Eastern Angles artistic director Ivan Cutting refreshes Hal Chambers original inventive staging.

The title change and the new cast members have done nothing to diminish the play. It is just as moving, just as entertaining, just as thought-provoking and engaging as it was when it was presented in a tent.

Beth Flintoff's play, presented on a flat surface, in the round, at the New Wolsey, successfully shifts the focus away from killer William Corder - the man who had his day in court, the man who told his story from the dock - to the hitherto silent victim Maria Marten, whose body lay undiscovered for over a year buried in the Red Barn, at Polstead.

Beth introduces us to the lively, personable, naughty Maria Marten. She ceases to be a victim and becomes a person, someone we can relate to, someone we can laugh with and, at times, scream in frustration at some of her life choices. In Elizabeth Crarer's capable hands she becomes someone we enjoy spending time with.

Beth and the cast create a community that transcends time. Although, this dreadful crime happened in the 1820s in rural Suffolk, sadly, it could still happen today in exactly the same way and ruin the lives of a similar group of lively young people. This is the real story of The Ballad of Maria Marten and it is told in a totally engaging and compelling way through, drama, swift, imaginative costume changes, great comic dialogue and some beautiful singing.

There are only two performances left (today matinee and evening) but you will be well rewarded if you drop everything and scoot along to the New Wolsey. It is just brilliant.

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