She Sells Sea Shells

Helen Eastman
Scandal and Gallows Theatre
Underbelly, Cowgate

She Sells Sea Shells

The name Mary Anning is not one that might immediately spring to mind, but her work in the field of palaeontology cannot fail to impress. Yet despite her devoting most of her life to the discovery and knowledge surrounding geology and fossils, her achievements were barely credited in her day, a factor Scandal and Gallows seeks to address directly in She Sells Sea Shells.

This delightfully didactic piece begins with Anning inserting herself into the action with a determined abruptness the audience will learn to recognise in her every facet. As we learn about her life and upbringing, the piece delves into the practices of seeking through the shale and stone along a beach to find the remnants of fossils, bones of dinosaurs and the like then further into the painstaking cleaning of them and the tiny funds this would net the family. A pittance to some, but life and death to them. Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of the play is the depictions of the class and gender inequalities of the time, all the while portraying Mary as a fascinating character, one that we care about and want to know more of.

Antonia Weir leads the piece as Anning, while Charlie Merriman and Emma MacLennan provide varied and enthusiastic support in all of the other roles in the history, as a history it is. If there is a downside to the experience, it is that the story never really winds the more fantastic aspects of itself into a coherent narrative. Although never dull, it teeters on the edge of being almost magical, but never quite manages to shake off an intrinsic gloominess and embrace things with an uplifting sense that suits the cheerful tone and style.

This is however a minor quibble in a play which is otherwise wholly entertaining, enthralling and even educational.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan

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