As historical murder
mysteries go, that of Maria Marten in the red barn at Polstead,
Suffolk, has to be up in the top ten. Her contemporaries, like most of
the novelists and dramatists who have latched on to her death, had no
doubt as to the perpetrator; her lover William Corder did the deed,
was tried for it, convicted and duly hanged. Over the last few years,
however, a revisionist scenario has crept into the foreground.
Christopher Bond is
one such writer. Now Emma MacLusky and Cordelia Spence offer
their alternative explanation, in the shape of Love Left
Hanging. Forget about the famous Victorian
melodramas based on the story; Maria was apparently no virtuous
village maiden seduced, then abandoned and finally murdered by a rich
local landlord. As the legend has it, her burial under the floor of
the barn was revealed to her father through his wife's dream.
MacLusky and Spence see Corder as weak and certainly immoral in his
business and sexual habits, but not a cold-blooded murderer.
Spence as director uses a cast of
five to show us the jurors' deliberations which lead to an acting-out
of the events on which they have to pronounce. Tina Baston is
Maria, Tom Moran doubles the parts of Corder and an open-minded
journalist James Curtis, Ant Cule plays Mr Marten and Corder's
shady partner the poacher Beauty Smith (quite a misnomer, that).
Alexandra Casey is Maria's stepmother, who herself has tangled with
both Corder and Smith, and Lauren Abel plays a palm-reading gypsy
girl, part of the tragedy as it unravels and yet outside it.
The premise and its
presentation are both interesting – but why, oh why! can't actors
articulate properly nowadays. The Fisher Theatre, where I saw Love
Left Hanging, is quite small but too many important lines
seemed to be swallowed rather than projected. Judging by overheard
comments during the interval, other members of the audience also had
difficulty in following the dialogue. Which was a pity, because this
treatment of what can be a two-dimensional 200-year old mystery