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Love Left Hanging (tour - Bungay, Fisher Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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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 deserves better.


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