United Players
She Sells Sea Shells
by Helen Eastman

When & Where 22 January – 14 February 2021 | Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery, Vancouver

Director Sarah Rodgers Assistant Director Cameron Peal Producer Joan Bryans Executive Producer Toph Marl Technical Director Leighton Taylor Lighting Design Brad Trenaman Set Design Brian Ball Costume Design Catherine E. Carr Sound Design Christopher King Fossils & Props Linda Begg & Ben Clark Choreographer Melissa Sciarretta Stage Manager Mariana Munoz

Reviewer John Jane

She sells sea shells on the sea shore…. it’s a tongue-twister many of us in the English speaking world learnt as a child without knowing, or caring who put it together. It may, or may not have been inspired by nineteenth-century, English paleontologist Mary Anning, who did spend much of her early years beachcombing with her father and brother collecting, cleaning, then selling sea shells.

Helen Eastman’s single act, three-handed play begins in present time at the 72nd meeting of the Paleontological Society. In the middle of a lecture on Mary Anning, the subject precipitously injects herself into the proceedings, at which point the action switches back a couple of centuries to Lyme Regis on the English south coast.

Eastman’s play then takes us on a pedagogic odyssey through the highs and lows of Mary Anning’s life. As an infant, she narrowly escaped tragedy, when the woman holding her was struck by lightning. When aged only 12, she discovered the skeleton of an ichthyosaur (Greek for “fish-lizard” resembling a giant crocodile). Her mother sold it to a member of the local gentry for £23. It was later sold for much more without her name ever being credited, which left our heroine very bitter.

Krista Skwarok is outstanding as the protagonist and her take on a south-west England accent is pretty authentic. Hannah Pearson and Isaac Li provide agile support sharing a dozen other roles that include Mary’s parents and a couple of ludicrous patrons.

For me, the most enthralling aspect of the play is its whimsical style of storytelling juxtaposed to the stark hardship of Mary’s life. One of the best scenes has Hannah Pearson and Isaac Li informing the audience with a brief history of geology that was part lecture and part dance.

Not everyone understands the passion of finding coloured rocks and buried bones. Some comedians have described paleontology as having no future (yuuck). Director Sarah Rodgers not only manages to bring Mary’s story to life with some theatrical flair, but also makes paleontology seem interesting.

© 2021 John Jane