Have you come from far to see the hanging?
Of Martha Brown. As the mob descended into the hang fair for the last public execution in Devon the folk of…Bath were beginning to gather to see Murderess Martha, taking their seats in the orderly modern way. Whilst the actors of Angel Exit theatre roamed through the crowds brandishing broadsheets, selling boiled sweets, spreading the word of the woman in the black silk dress who says a horse killed her husband…
In this extraordinary concoction of music and physicality a horse murdering her husband isn’t the strangest thing I bore witness to. With this ludicrous story woven by Martha Brown it isn’t hard to imagine why Angel Exit theatre turned this tall tale into a dark comedy. As Martha is taken to the gallows, she is urged by four evils upon her shoulder to tell us the truth.
Without ruining the surprises that lead to the inevitable ending, a hanging foreshadowed throughout with sinister ramblings of what will come to pass, the versatile noose used as a maypole, a dead crow and a curse that couldn’t be shaken. Their use of props was beyond imaginative and always crowd pleasing; just the sight of Martha’s bun coming out of the oven and her cradling raw dough that is chopped in half with the birth of a second son!
It is undeniable that they presented a spectacle and like the audience of 1856 we watched on with gaping mouths. Having never seen a hanging what were we to expect? Talking hatchets, eerie melodies, men being milked on stage from rubber gloved teats? What we expected was a show and that is what they gave us!
Angel Exit amused with this past pleasure, with roars of laughter from the audience, feet thumping and rowdy encouragement. But we must not forget a crime was committed and it is these sinister scenes which are laid out bare; the audiences’ mouths open for an entirely different reason. It’s the harrowing scenes of the murder of another brown in the second act that stunned the audience into silence, showing that Angel Exit can also give it to us straight, no silk frills.
There is no miracle ending but I almost expected Angel Exit to do just that, not guilty. They showcased many miraculous ideas but they cannot change history and nor should they. Their style isn’t going to be for everyone, but you won’t know until you’ve seen them. The death of Martha Brown won’t surprise you but her ballad will.