Actor Lizzie Crarer is currently starring in the critically-acclaimed The Ballad of Maria Marten which returns to stages across the UK this spring. I caught up with Lizzie to find out more.
Can you tell me about The Ballad of Maria Marten?
The show is based on the true story of a woman who was brutally murdered by her partner in rural Suffolk in the 1820s. Maria’s whereabouts were unknown for a whole year until her stepmother started having strange dreams and persuaded Maria’s father to go and look for the body in a nearby barn – in which he discovered his daughter’s remains. The ensuing trial of William Corder, the perpetrator, became one of the first media sensations that this country had ever seen, attracting an unprecedented number of people to both the courthouse in Bury St Edmunds and the hanging of the condemned man. Since then, the story has been semi-mythologised through melodramas, countless books, a puppet show and latterly a B-movie – and in many of these iterations William Corder has emerged as a sort of Byronic hero and Maria Marten as a fallen woman who probably deserved her fate. Based on meticulous examination of the (abundant) primary evidence from the trial and interviews from the time, The Ballad of Maria Marten offers a fresh interpretation of this well-worn narrative from the perspective of the murdered woman and her six closest female friends.
What was it about the production that made you want to get involved?
I’ve always been fascinated by the stories behind the stories of historical figures: why people are remembered in a certain way and what the other sides of the story might be. Developing a character based on an historical figure is always an exercise in empathy and imagination rooted in historical detail. It satisfies both the history nerd and the actor in me! I also believe that there is something spine-tinglingly profound in quite literally giving someone a ‘second hearing’ in front of a live audience – something that is uniquely possible in theatre.
How does it feel to be returning to the show after everything that’s happened over the past two years?
I actually returned to the show in the autumn when we opened in Bury St Edmunds. Stepping out onto the stage on the first night was very emotional. I realised just how much I had missed theatre and how much I hadn’t allowed myself to acknowledge that I had missed it. This has been such a devastating time for so many people in the theatre sector – many of whom continue to shoulder huge financial risks in the face of wild uncertainty because they believe in what they’re doing. I feel immense gratitude and admiration for all the independents who have been working tirelessly, quietly, to keep it all going. Live theatre is precious and unique and without these people it would not exist.
What has been the reaction to the show so far?
I’ve been deeply touched by the tremendous warmth of audience responses up and down the country – and sobered by the resonance that the play’s subject matter clearly holds.
Why do you think this story is so important as we start to move out of the pandemic?
Firstly, despite being about a murder, the play is also about friendship, hope and solidarity. It’s a joyful thing – and I think we all need a bit of that after the past 2 years.
Secondly, there has, thankfully, been much more attention given by the media in past months to the epidemic of violence against women, and to the huge upsurge in domestic abuse resulting from successive lockdowns. A play offers a held space for an audience to experience a human connection with what goes on behind these headlines and statistics, through the form of an individual story. The more we tell stories like that of Maria and of those she was close to, the more we promote a collective emotional literacy that makes it less likely that abusive behaviours go unrecognised and unchallenged.
What can audiences expect from The Ballad of Maria Marten?
A show that’s full of heart and poignancy: beautifully written with great visuals and a cracking original soundtrack. It’s also good old-fashioned ghost story and a great night out!
For more information on dates and tickets visit https://www.mariamarten.com
Photo credit: Jamie Zubairi