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The Murder of Maria Marten (or The Red Barn)

A Melodrama by Brian J Burton

Directed by Keith Pollard. Musical Director: Mr. Iain Kerr



William Corder (The Squire's Son) Andy Godfrey
Maria Marten (Daughter of Thomas Marten) Sarah Coleman
Thomas Marten (An honest rustic molecatcher in the vale of years) Roland Garrad
Mrs. Marten (His wife) Marion Pollard
Tim Bobbin (A simple rustic) Tom Miller
Anne Marten (Maria's younger sister) Aisling Tigwell
Meg Bobbin (Tim's younger sister) Vicky Veness
Johnnie Badger (A young man in love with Maria) Ben Burford
Nell Hatfield (A gypsy woman) Libby Annetts
Petra Andrews (A gypsy) Carol Ardley
Rosa Post (A gypsy) Amy Shortman
Carmen Jones (A gypsy) Wendy Hatch
Alice Rumbold (Corder's maid) Pauline Lucas
Pharos Lee (An Officer of the Law) Keith Miller


The Murder of Maria Marten is, in all the main essentials, a true story. Maria Marten was born in Polstead, Suffolk in 1801. There she met Willim Corder, by whom she had a child who died infancy. In 1827, Corder murdered Maria and buried her body in the Red Barn. Because of his wife's recurring dream, Thomas Marten searched the barn and discovered the body of his daughter. Corder was arrested in London, where he had married. He was tried and convicted and, in 1828, was executed at Bury Gaol.

During the 19th Century many plays were written and performed on the subject, including The Late Murder of Maria Marten (performed at Polsead Fair before Corder had even been tried), The Red Barn or The Gypsy's Curse, Advertisement For Wives, The Red Barn or The Mysterious Murder, and The Red Barn or The Prophetic Dream. The first printed version was performed at the Star Theatre, Swansea in 1842. Since then, there have been many versions written for stage, film, radio and TV. 

This revised version, by Brian J Burton, was first presented at the Swan Theatre, Worcester, on 6th December 1978.  An earlier Brian J Burton version was performed in 1972 by the Clacton Amateur Dramatic Society, in which Keith Pollard appeared as Tim Bobbin alongside his wife, Marion, as Anne Marten.

Director, Keith Pollard, had a particular reason for choosing The Red Barn, having been a member of the cast some years earlier when the same melodrama was staged by the Clacton Amateur Dramatic Society.

In the picture below, he is seen as Tim Bobbin, along with his stage sweetheart Anne Marten, who is better known to us now as the real life Mrs. Marion Pollard (seen to the left as Mrs. Marten).

Although it would be romantic to be able to report that history had repeated itself in respect of their two modern day counterparts, that it not the case. However, check out the picture above ... does one detect a spark between Tim and his sister Meg? And if so, would that be legal?

Review by Ann Rachlin

The Villain is always the central character in Victorian Melodrama and the Fairlight Players production of ”The Murder of Maria Marten or The Red Barn” boasted a sensational performance by Andy Godfrey as William Corder, the villainous murderer of the innocent Maria . Never overplayed, his subtle asides to the audience matched by his flamboyant dastardly gestures and dramatic outcries, made him the lynchpin of a superb production. The characters, homely naive peasants, scheming revengful gypsies and of course the innocent Maria all revolve round the Villain, just as the villagers danced round the Maypole in the opening scene, weaving together the intrigues of this tale of Innocence Betrayed with the joy of a Villain who gets his comeuppance on the gallows. 

Called upon not only to act in the traditional Victorian melodramatic style, The Fairlight Players excelled themselves, skilfully delivering a variety of dialects and accents, singing, dancing and cavorting merrily with such a wealth of talent that the first night audience found themselves involved in the tragic story of Maria Marten, hissing, booing at Corder, commiserating with Maria’s grieving parents, laughing at the clumsy peasants and sighing with sympathy at the heroine’s fall from grace and consequent demise. 

Libby Annetts as the revengeful Gypsy Nell was a sensationally sensuous gypsy with a wonderful voice that gave the new updated lyrics of “The Gypsy” a brilliant performance. Tom Miller as the Rustic Idiot and Aisling Tigwell as Anne Marten made a delightful and hilarious pair whose duets were charming and beautifully performed. Keith Miller’s Irish policeman was hysterical. The silent movie chase brought howls of laughter from the audience. Marion Pollard and Roland Garrad portrayed Maria’s bereaved parents with the perfect mixture of pathos and humour. Sarah Coleman, as Maria, was exquisitely pretty in the role and sang her solos with sensitivity and appealing gestures – still very young, she will grow into an accomplished little actress for she shows great promise. For me, one of the many highlights was the trio of gypsies which closed the First Act – the show is worth seeing for that alone! 

The teamwork both on and off stage was impressive. The sets, sound effects and costumes were outstanding, and the smoothness of the performance shows what a well-oiled team the Fairlight Players are. 

Keith and Marion alongside musical director, Iain KerrThe direction by Keith Pollard was masterful, combining the traditions of Victorian Melodrama with marvellous tongue-in-cheek contemporary humour that made it all seem very 21st century. The audience loved it and got all the innuendos, ancient and modern. Throughout Iain Kerr at the keyboard, gave his inimitable magical support to the cast, with his witty musical asides and quotations which were a sheer delight. How clever too to set the mood by getting the audience to sing along with him before the arrival of the “travelling players”. 

“The Red Barn” may seem a simple enough tale but it is, in truth, a complicated production to be staged and Keith Pollard and his talented team, both on and off stage, are to be warmly congratulated.. 

A splendid evening out – not to be missed. 

Ann Rachlin

Note - This review appeared in part in the Hastings Observer and the Rye & Battle Observer on 4th May 2012, but crucial elements were lost during editing. We are pleased here to reproduce the text in full so that the world may read Ann's exact words.