A Shiny Life For Me!

a personal review blog by Bianca

The Ballad Of Maria Marten

The Ballad Of Maria Marten
16 February 2022
Wilton’s Music Hall
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

I recently attended the press night for The Ballad Of Maria Marten, at the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall. This relatively new production is based on the true crime story of the murder of Maria Marten, which has often seen the murderer at the centre of the story. This is of course the case with many true crime narratives, people investigate the childhood and youth of the perpetrator, dig into their psychology and trauma, and ask the big question of why did this individual become a ruthless murderer. Especially when it’s a brutal crime committed against a young woman, bystanders and the press alike tend to focus on the history of the perpetrator, his motivations, his life and thoughts, and spare little interest for who the woman was and how her life had unfolded before it’s untimely end. Not so in this play!

Writer and director Beth Flintoff made the deliberate choice not to give William Corder a voice, or any sort of consideration, in her stage version of this story. Instead, the focus lays on the women around Maria, as well as her own history, family, and life. The writer explores the power dynamics of society in the early 18-hundreds, and imagines how Maria may have gotten into the situation that eventually ended her life. Flintoff did heaps of research about Marten and her friends, family, and village, as well as working with women’s charities and exploring coercive control, which has only recently entered the public conscience as a factor in abusive relationships.

The play re-tells the story by focusing on Maria, by giving her a voice, a character, a life full of friends, family, hardships and celebrations, love and loss. The story is lovingly told without glorifying neither the main character, nor her eventual murder, but rather approaching it as a story of life in the 18-hundreds and the limitations put on women due to the expectations for them at the time, and of course the huge impact class and wealth had on individuals and the limits to their freedom to decide what kind of life they would like to lead. It is simply an exploration of women’s lives in the early 19th century, told by women to reclaim their voices and their power, to give them some agency in a time where they had little.

It was absolutely beautiful and inspiring to see a narrative rewritten like this, especially in a true-crime setting that so often finds blame in the actions of the victims. The lovingly woven story shows so vividly how people can be deeply changed by the events that mark their lives, by pivotal trauma, or by small changes here and there that have a deeper impact than many might imagine. Especially the focus on coercive control, which is only recently being explored in the setting of abusive relationships, is something I have not seen on stage often. The slow descent into becoming a different person deeply affected by the words of a man she trusted, Maria is shown to abandon her friends and family out of subtle manipulation and lies from the man who will eventually take her life.

The Ballad Of Maria Marten is deeply moving, empowering, and so timely and important still today!

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