Play inspired by Red Barn Murder comes to Ipswich

The Murder in the Red Barn is a play written by Beth Flintoff, giving a feminist twist to the infamous murder

The Murder in the Red Barn is a play written by Beth Flintoff, giving a feminist twist to the infamous murder by concentrating on the victim, the young mother Maria Marten. - Credit: Tony Bartholomew

A play bringing to life a grisly Suffolk murder will be coming to the News Wolsey Theatre this week. 

The Ballad of Maria Marten depicts the infamous story of the Red Barn Murder and will be performed on Thursday, March 17, and Friday, March 18. 

Playwright Beth Flintoff has spoken out about how she has given the tale a feminist twist, focusing on the victim of Maria and telling the story from her perspective. 

But what is the true story behind the inspiration for the play? 

The title role is played by Elizabeth Crarer

The title role of Maria is played by Elizabeth Crarer. Other cast members include Jessica Dives, Sarah Goddard and Susie Barrett - Credit: TONY BARTHOLOMEW

This all-female casting seeks to give the play a feminist twist.

This all-female casting seeks to give the play a feminist twist. - Credit: TONY BARTHOLOMEW

The Red Barn Murder took place in the summer of 1827, in Polstead, near Sudbury. Maria Marten was around 26, and waiting for her lover, William Corder, to meet her at the local landmark, a red-roofed barn on the isolated Barnfield Hill. 

In a sign of the times, Maria was regarded by many in the village as a ‘fallen woman,’ having had three children out of wedlock. Two had died in infancy, the youngest being the child of Corder. 

Corder had a reputation for being untrustworthy, a womaniser and a swindler, having fraudulently sold his father’s pigs and becoming involved with local thieves before taking over the family farm. 

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Nevertheless, Maria was determined they would marry, and Corder had agreed that they would meet at the barn before eloping to Ipswich.  

Maria was never seen again.

Writer Beth Flintoff has explained that this play will focus on Maria Martin in life

Writer Beth Flintoff has explained that this play will focus on Maria Martin in life, and not simply the horrific manner of her death. - Credit: Harry Elletson

Maria Marten was a young mother from Polstead

Maria Marten was a young mother from Polstead. Pictured: Sarah Goddard, Jessica Dives, Suzanne Ahmet, Elizabeth Crarer, Emma Denly and Susanna Jennings - Credit: TONY BARTHOLOMEW

Corder was full of excuses, but these were not enough to quell her family’s worries. 

Time passed, and Maria’s stepmother admitted to dreaming that Maria had been killed. She finally persuaded her husband to search the barn in April, where he discovered his daughter’s body. 

The search for Corder began, and a local constable traced him to London, where he was arrested, although vehemently denying Maria’s murder. 

Corder stood trial at the Shire Hall in Bury St Edmunds, and was condemned to die by hanging, his body to be dissected and anatomised. 

He was hanged on August 11, 1828, watched by a crowd of thousands. 

His skeleton was used for many years as a teaching aid at a hospital in west Suffolk, and was laid to rest in 2004.