Theatre review: She Sells Sea Shells, Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh

She Sells Sea Shells combines dynamic direction with a sharp script
She Sells Sea Shells combines dynamic direction with a sharp script
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A surprising number of nursery rhymes are based on women from history; “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” is about Bloody Mary, “There Was an Old Woman” is about Queen Caroline, and “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” is about the female inmates of Wakefield Prison.

She Sells Sea Shells, Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh * * * *

In Scandal and Gallow’s historical performance we learn the story of palaeontologist Mary Anning, the little girl who sold seashells, and whose fossil findings in Dorset shaped the way we understand the natural world.

Madeleine Skipsey’s direction is exciting and creative, and combined with Helen Eastman’s funny and direct script makes for a show that can make obscure facts about science and prehistoric life understandable and engaging. The passion that the cast have for the subject matter makes it as entertaining for a complete novice as it is for someone with a vast knowledge of dinosaurs.

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Antonia Weir’s performance as the bossy and blunt Mary turns her harsh character into a likeable underdog, and as she introduces herself by interrupting a lecture about herself we get an immediate sense of her character. She decides to tell her story her own way: her life will not be reduced to a question of gender equality, class, love, or religion, even though it could easily be twisted to fit any of those themes.

If there is any message, it is about preserving the memory of the people who made our lives what they are today. Even so, it doesn’t really need a message. By shrewdly side-stepping shallow sentimentalising, She Sells Sea Shells’s slick storytelling strips the shadows from Mary Anning’s discoveries.

Until 25 August.

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