The Mysterie of Maria Marten and the Murder in the Red Barn (Hornchurch)
You’ll gather from this that Bond’s play, nicely decorated with appropriate folk- and programme-derived music, isn’t just a re-hash of the popular melodramas which proliferated after the actual 1827 crime. It weaves social commentary as well as a neat twist to fictional as well as factual personalities into the story; this was a period of great agricultural and industrial upheaval in East Anglia as elsewhere.
Norman Coates’ set teases us on several levels. It’s framed by a false proscenium, trucks on various homes and the eponymous barn which look like something out of a contemporary woodcut and suggests throughout the fit-up stages of itinerant entertainers. We’re part in a real world at a real time in history – and part in a 20th century playhouse watching a stoey which is both familiar and off-kiler.
The acting is very good with fine performances from Oliver Seymour-Marsh as William Corder (here given genuine motives for what he does), Natasha Moore as his not-so-innocent victim and Tom Jude as a two-faced clergyman, very much in the fashion of the Tory party at prayer. And there’s Christine Holman as a gypsy with more than a hint of Verdi’s Azucena about her and the delectably anachronistic Lady Augusta Holmes. Her heaven-and-hell violin duel with Jude is a sequence to savour.
Bond’s text ranges from the rhyming couplets associated with early 19th century melodrama and modern pantomime, through blank verse to prose. It’s a pity that director Matt Devitt hasn’t encouraged a little more clarity of enunciation in his cast – Moore and Seymour-Marsh apart, for the words aren’t just worth the hearing. They’re vital to the whole story, after all.