Tag Archives: Beth Flintoff

“The Ballad of Maria Marten” at Wilton’s Music Hall

Beth Flintoff brings this story of a murder victim to the stage with skill and originality. Based on a real-life case that was a news sensation in 1828, this production is a thriller, but in an unexpected fashion. The Ballad of Maria Marten is more social history than murder mystery – and is all the better for that.

The focus is on Marten’s life rather than death, taking in village society and the status of women. Marten’s childhood was difficult but not unhappy – we see close bonds of friendship. Her first encounter with a man was little more than prostitution but later there was a true love affair. Considering Marten’s brutal death, there’s a lot of joy in this ballad.

The speculative biography and convincing picture of another time and place are brought to the stage by only six performers. They are all strong. But Elizabeth Crarer’s massive title role is awe inspiring. Other characters are types with work to do: the timid stepmother, the “brazen” one and the religious friend. But Sarah Goddard, Bethan Nash and Susie Barrett manage to show us depth in the trickiest roles. The latter two impress twice over, performing as two of the men in Marten’s life.

The Ballad of Maria Marten 1 credit Mike Kwasniak

It is when using the performers together that director Hal Chambers secures the strongest theatrical moments. Acting literally as a chorus – the songs from Luke Potter are fantastic – the cast physically supports Marten at moments of crisis. Aided by movement direction from Rebecca Randall, there are beautiful scenes as they dance, dress and clean their friend.

The Ballad of Maria Marten 1 credit Mike Kwasniak

After the interval the play gets darker. Marten’s relationship with her murderer William Corder is used by Flintoff to explore “coercive control”. Crarer shines as she performs powerful scenes solo. Flintoff’s research with Lighthouse Women’s Aid, which works with those affected by domestic abuse or violence, has paid off. Along with the dramatic tension, there is much to learn as gaslighting leads to mental breakdown.

The idea of denying Corder an appearance on stage is powerful. A further twist in the way tales of murdered women get told is less successful. Flintoff also wants to look at the legacy of violence on Marten’s friends. These women deserve a voice, too, of course, but the stories become truncated. The incendiary finale is neat but rushed. Even so, the show is thoroughly recommended – ideas and execution are grand. This ballad deserves to be a big hit.

Until 19 February 2022 and then on tour


Photo by Mike Kwasniak

"The Incident Room" at the New Diorama Theatre

If you are a lover of true crime stories, you’ll lap up this show. An in-depth retelling of the Yorkshire Ripper case that gripped Britain in the late 1970s, the detail is fascinating and the story compelling. But there’s more to Olivia Hirst and David Byrne’s play – an intelligent engagement with history makes their work the very best of its kind by questioning the genre it is part of.

Hirst and Byrne condense events with skill, but their real triumph is in imposing focus on the story by highlighting police work and effectively ignoring the killer. The raw material is fascinating: the lengths the police went to over tyres, bank notes and the sheer number of people interviewed.

Yet what provides the driving force for the show is the tension of working a case that is massive and inventive – apparently changing police procedure – but was ultimately a famous failure. Aided by excellent live video work, designed by Zakk Hein, and a Kafkaesque set from Patrick Connellan, Byrne, along with Beth Flintoff, directs with discipline. The action – in reality slow, boring, work – becomes engrossing and the impact of events powerful.

The Incident Room at the New Diorama Theatre credit The Other Richard

The precision creates characters a long way from your average crime drama, surely aided by the fact that the show is devised by its ensemble. A cracking cast rises to the material with solid performances. As police under pressure Colin R Campbell, Peter Clements, Ben Eagle and Jamie Samuel are all good, creating an impression of a tight team with conflicts big and small managing to inject a surprising amount of humour. But Hirst and Byrne are relentless and focus further.

For The Incident Room has a steely eye on both sexism and the responsibilities of telling stories of this kind. Parallel instances of women in a men’s world reflect both of these concerns. A female journalist, played with winning presence by Natasha Magigi, who sees the chance for a big break, provides commentary while piling on the dramatic pressure. Meanwhile, detective Megan Winterburn, ignored for promotion and doing far too much typing, narrates events in a very special fashion. As Winterburn re-enacts the case in her mind (as if she were rewriting the story, like the playwrights) we see how what she could have done haunts her. Hindsight reveals how traumatic the case was for the police involved. It makes a star role for Charlotte Melia, who gives a magnificent performance.

The Incident Room knows that its subject matter treads a fine line between truth and “titillation” and is careful to address the victims of the Ripper’s crimes. Here the skill is to continue to reflect those concerns about story telling in such a sensitive, honest, fashion. With a woman who survived an attack, Maureen Long, the wish is to be forgotten. Fearing she will be forever defined by her victimhood, an address to the audience, delivered with passion by Katy Brittain, who takes the part, serves as a powerful theatrical moment characteristic of a show marked by both brains and sensitivity.

Until 14 March 2020


Photos by The Other Richard

“Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow” at the New Diorama Theatre

This fun show brings film noir vigorously to the stage. It’s a detective adventure story that combines the gumshoe genre’s humour and sentimentality, updates the sexual politics and finds time for a conspiratorial twist. As the power goes out in Los Angeles, the theatre fills with atmospheric shadows. But what exactly is going on at Addison Electric to make all the filaments flicker?

This is a production with plenty of light-bulb moments. The staging, devised by the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company with director Beth Flintoff, sparks with invention. A case of smoke and sliding doors, props are used perfectly, including e-cigarettes. And as you’d expect, Nick Flintoff’s lighting design is essential. The dialogue might disappoint, given the show’s antecedents, but the focus is on movement, with long stretches that show the cast’s prowess and an impressive soundtrack.

There’s some fantastic talent here. In the title role Julian Spooner manages to convey a surprisingly complex hero. Inheriting the job from his father, this little-guy P.I. becomes his own man with satisfying subtlety. Christopher Harrisson and Matthew Wells take on numerous roles faultlessly, as well as gracefully moving around the props on wheels. Showing the mechanics of the staging, down to carrying around the smoke machines and filters for the lights, isn’t new but it’s seldom done with such understated charm.
Hum & Clay present Hardboiled at The New Diorama Theatre. 9th Feb 2016 Photo Credit: Richard Davenport 2016 richard@rwdavenport.co.uk
Stealing the show is Jess Mabel Jones, who plays all the female parts, including Shadow’s secretary and the obligatory femme fatale, using tiny costume changes and great vocal skills. Even a ditzy secretary is given her due, showing a knowing nod to the role of women in film noir. All indicative of a fresh eye on a beloved style, performed with care and creativity.

Until 27 February 2016


Photos by Richard Davenport