The Ballad of Martha Brown

by info in Dorset

We did it
On 18th August 2015 we successfully raised £1,351 with 41 supporters in 21 days

We are touring this physical theatre show based on the true life story of the last woman publicly hanged in Dorset full of music and mirth.

by info in Dorset

About the project

The Ballad of Martha Brown was created last year and we completed a short UK tour but we want to take the production back on the road this autumn so that more audiences can enjoy the show and more students can take part in our educational workshops. 

A dark comedy that is full of pleasurable moments, music and visual fun... a powerful piece of theatre that transfixed the capacity audience with its imaginative set, innovative style and emotive storyline... Don't miss it!" Dorset Echo

About the show

The Ballad of Martha Brown is set in 1856 and is about the last woman publicly hanged in Dorset after killing her husband with an axe and blaming it on her horse. The hanging was witnessed by a young Thomas Hardy and the vision haunted him all his life.

“I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back,” Thomas Hardy recalling the hanging 70 years later.

A mischievous chorus of mysterious hollow-eyed storytellers invite the audience into their darkly humorous world where the events of Martha’s life are played out under the constant stare of the gallows above. Reality and fantasy blur as objects in the story are given a voice and surreal comedy peppers the drama unfolding on stage.

The Ballad of Martha Brown is performed by an ensemble of five in the company’s rich visual style, blending storytelling and striking physicality, spliced through with wicked humour, live music and macabre songs. Martha Brown was an ordinary working class woman who became the talk of the town in a time before social media and mass communication and a series of last minute events meant that Martha failed to secure a reprieve resulting in her execution by the notorious celebrity ‘showman’ hangman William Calcraft who travels down to rural Dorset from London by train, and we see the modern industrial world facing the traditional rural world.



"An enviable reputation for vivid and unusual work... appealingly laced with oddball comedy" The Stage

“Fans of Angel Exit will recognise the company’s signature choreography, inventively weaving and interacting among each other and through the complex scenery. Movement is balletic and bleak moments are filled with dark humour, dancing & singing freshly created, amusing lyrics.” Remote Goat

“Black comedy runs through the veins of this production... a well paced piece of theatre, full of lovely moments drawn from their Dorset surroundings. With its lively blend of physicality, song and gallows humor... it never fails to entertain.” The Public Reviews

"The company has evolved a distinctive style and it has never been better employed than in this darkly comic retelling of the story of Martha Brown… Angel Exit have again found a hugely entertaining, visually stunning and choreographically astonishing way to tell it" Fine Times Recorder



This 23-date tour will take us all around the South West and outside our region to Berkshire, Wiltshire, Kent, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Tour dates


Tuesday 22nd: Newbury Corn Exchange, workshop

Wednesday 23rd: Newbury Corn Exchange, show

Thursday 24th: Weymouth College, show and workshop

Saturday 26th: Rural Arts Wiltshire, show

Monday 28th: Cheltenham Ladies College, workshops

Tuesday 29th: Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham, show


Thursday 1st: Queens College, Taunton, workshops

Friday 2nd: Quartz Festival, Taunton, shows

Saturday 3rd: Merlin Theatre, Frome

Tuesday 6th: The Plough Arts Centre, Devon

Wednesday 7th: The Flavel Arts Centre, Devon

Thursday 8th: Brockenhurst College, workshops

Friday 9th: Brockenhurst College, show

Saturday 10th: Arts Reach, Burton Bradstock Village Hall, show

Sunday 11th: Arts Reach, Milton Abbey School, Blandford Forum, show

Monday 12th: Milton Abbey School, workshops

Tuesday 13th: Powell Theatre, Sherborne, workshop and show

Thursday 15th: Square Chapel, Halifax, show

Wednesday 21st: Shelley Theatre, Boscombe, show

Thursday 22nd: Stamford Arts Centre, Lincolnshire

Friday 23rd: The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Saturday 24th: Arts Reach, Broadwindsor Comrades Hall 

We need your help!

Keeping six people on the road paying for wages, van hire, petrol, parking, accommodation, publicity, repairs, food etc etc is an expensive business, and small regional theatres cannot afford to pay the fees which would cover all of our costs. This means we need to seek subsidy from other places. Arts Council helped us to create the project last year and funded our initial tour but unfortunately we have been unsuccesful in securing any funding from them for this tour.... However, the show must go on! We have a commitment to the 18 shows and 12 educational workshops we have scheduled to deliver on this five week tour but it is going to be hard and sadly we won't be able to pay our hardworking team industry standard wages. We have been given masses of support in kind from very lovely people but we need fundraise a lot more to reach our target and enable us to break even.

We passionately believe in the power and worth of live theatre, we believe that Martha's life story should be told, not forgotten, and that it can help us to see our own lives in new ways even though she lived in the Victorian past. We also believe in the importance of running workshops, engaging with our audiences, passing on our knowledge and sharing the experience of live theatre is vital.

About the team behind The Ballad of Martha Brown

The Ballad of Martha Brown is directed by Tamsin Fessey and Lynne Forbes and was devised by the company (including original cast members Morag Cross, Simon Carrolll Jones and William Wolfe Hogan), co-written with Amy Rosenthal (Sitting Pretty) and with design by Sarah Dicks (Cirque Bijou, London 2012 Weymouth Opening Ceremony Battle for the Winds) and music by Tom Ball (Marthas and Arthurs, Moonfleet, The Secret Garden) and we couldn't have made the show without our trusty stage manager Matt Llewellyn Smith whose engineering genius created the set. Lynne, Tamsin and Morag will be performing in this tour and we're excited about welcoming two new cast members to the production!


About Angel Exit

Formed by graduates of the prestigious Ecole Lecoq, and based in Dorset, Angel Exit Theatre is a shifting ensemble of professional arts practitioners and performers under the artistic direction of Tamsin Fessey and Lynne Forbes. Angel Exit have produced seven original full scale shows. These include the critically acclaimed productions, The Black Curtain (UK and French tour), Moonfleet (Two UK tours) and The Secret Garden (70 date UK tour, 2012). The company places a strong emphasis on storytelling through physical ensemble theatre, using the European traditions of clown, chorus, melodrama and buffoonery. Live music and original soundtracks are integral to our work. We are associate artists at Lighthouse Poole’s Centre for the Arts and resident artists at Dorchester Arts. 

We also create work for festivals including Green Man Festival's Einstein's Garden. Last summer we were at The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew with Plant Family Croquet and this year we are back there with Strictly Spice created in collaboration with Einstein's Garden and scientists at Kew.

We are currently working on two other new projects Otto and the Robin which will premiere at Lighthouse Poole's Centre for the Arts this Christmas and Drive (working title) - a contemporary piece of new writing which will follow two women on a road trip accross Europe and will explore themes of friendship, grief, loss and memory. 


This project offers rewards in return for your donation.

£5 or more

£5 Reward

A thank you for believing in our project and helping us get Martha back on the road.

£10 or more

£10 Reward

A BIG thank you for believing in our project and helping us get Martha back on the road.

£20 or more

£20 Reward

A REALLY BIG thank you for helping us get our show on the road and your name in our programme.

£50 or more

£50 Reward

Our grateful thanks and a signed programme, poster, set of postcards and travel candle from Martha Brown's shop.

£100 or more

£100 Reward

Our super grateful thanks, a signed poster, programme, set of postcards and a candle in a travel tin and a personal meet and greet with the cast with a tour around our set after any show.

£500 or more

£500 Reward

All of the above and a drama workshop at a time to be arranged at your local school/ college/ youth club/ barn/ house for you and your friends - wherever you want us to come and do a drama workshop with you!

Got an idea like this?

Our crowd has raised over £70 million for bright ideas and good causes.