A striking set by Tom Bannerman consisting of exposed wooden roof beams and scrims and earthen foreground floor entices you into the space of New Theatre’s presentation of The Ballad of Maria Marten.
Beth Flintoff’s play is a murder ballad, an historical cold case of a covered up crime committed in early 19th Century England, when deportation to Australia was still a punishment.
Although an historical play, the events depicted in The Ballad of Maria Marten have a harrowing resonance to contemporary society, particularly the sharp end of domestic violence that women face.
The lack of respect, the lack of worth women endure to this day unfortunately makes this play resonate when, ideally, the situations and behaviours should be a relic, a reminder of a bygone era, relegated to the dustbin of history.
The Ballad of Maria Marten tackles the economic imbalance between genders, the consequences of class in a stagnant status quo, the perniciousness of patriarchy, coercive control, gas lighting, and the all too numerous times these ingredients culminate in murder.
Louise Fischer’s production is anchored by Naomi Belet’s central performance in the titular role. It’s a vibrant, vigorous and vivacious performance, vocally and physically robust. Belet is also credited as musical director and leaves an equally indelible stamp on the sound of this production.
Music plays a pivotal role in the narrative as does dancing, with the choreography credited to Ali Bendall, who also plays Maria’s bosom buddy, Sarah. It’s a big, bold, bawdy role and Bendall embraces it.
Rhiannon Jean takes on two performance roles, the upper-class Lady Cook and the oafish Thomas, while also providing the production’s sound design.
The rest of the ensemble, Olivia Bartha, Kyra Belford-Thomas, Maddie Sherston, Zarah Stibbard, and Jane Wallace all contribute with crafted characterisations to deepen the pool of talent assembled.
Deborah Mulhall’s costume design and Michael Schell’s lighting augment and enhance with considerable finesse.
Serious in intent, contemporary in theme, given joyous uplift by song and dance, The Ballad of Maria Marten is both memorial to a forgotten victim and an uplifting advocacy of affirmation of resistance and resilience.
New Theatre presents
The Ballad of Maria Marten
by Beth Flintoff
Director Louise Fischer
Venue: New Theatre | 542 King St Newtown NSW
Dates: 14 November – 16 December 2023
Tickets: $35 – $30