Skeleton Wumman – Review

Apr 24 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Puts flesh on bones

Buchan Lennon and Amy Conachan. Photo © Oran Mor

Buchan Lennon and Amy Conachan. Photo © Oran Mor

A Play, A Pie and A Pint at the Traverse
Tue 22 – Sat 26 April 2014
Review by Thom Dibdin

Lang syne deid, the Skeleton Wumman is an eerie and intriguing storyteller in Gerda Stevenson’s contribution to this Spring’s season of lunchtime theatre at the Traverse.

Trapped beneath the sea, the Skeleton Wumman, played by Amy Conachan, has silver drifts of fish flipping through her ribs. At low tide she can hear the tolling of a church bell, caught in the same sea surge which drowned her.

She speaks of all this, of being dragged around the seabed at the whim of the tide and her memories of her childhood in a fishing town, in a Scots tongue which is clear and transparent.

Conachan’s lilting North-eastern accent is heightened further by Seylan Baxter’s haunting live electric cello, which echoes around the production like song. Behind her, Buchan Lennon provides a wild, sign language interpretation, his arms and body moving like a rack of seaweed rising from the sea bed.

The Skeleton Womman’s story is a twisting piece of poetry, a lament – in ways – for a childhood lost, for being given up on by busy parents, for lower limbs which were wasted away from birth and a brain starved of oxygen at the wrong moment. The loss of the perfect twin sister who drowned at an early age.

Yet it is a celebration, too. A celebration of early womanhood and the longing, lusting which the young woman who the Skeleton Wumman once was, had for a young man she met in the swimming pool. And in a strange, twisting tale of skeletal adventures beneath the sea, how she ends up drowned in his eyes.

Written and directed by Gerda Stevenson, this is the kind of theatre which submerges you in its world and logic, leaving you washed up on a beach at the end, still wrapped up in its magic. There are perhaps a few straggling items of flotsam left from what might have been a longer piece, but little of that.

“..puts flesh and bones on her character…”

Conachan, recently seen as the super-sexy protagonist in Wendy Hoose for Birds of Paradise and Random Accomplice, is perfect in the title role. She puts flesh and bones on her character, demanding that the audience see both her appearance and beyond that; what she is perceived to be and what she really is.

Seylan Baxter. Photo © Oran Mor

Seylan Baxter. Photo © Oran Mor

Buchan Lennon’s sign language is unintrusive by virtue of being worked into the production, thanks to director of BSL and Sign Mime, Natalie MacDonald. He steps easily out into the character of Father, a laid-off fisherman who is not bad but bedraggled by his lot. And when he is the young man, met at the pool, Lennon provides the spark that would ignite any young woman’s heart.

Music, which is integral to the telling of the whole piece, is made even more so by Seylan Baxter. Stroked, sampled and looped, her six-string electric cello – itself a skeletal creation – provides a soundtrack that can be as eerie as the slow drift of the tides or as threatening as the opening of the gates of hell. When needed, she provides the occasional character as easily as she lifts another note from her instrument.

At a brief 45 minutes, this gets straight into its stride. Yet Stevenson never reveals quite where it is going. In part it is a story of faerie fish folk drawing of myth and folklore, in other ways it is a lament for the species and ways of life which have been lost as humanity degrades the planet still further. It is a tale of love, too, and a challenge to its audience’s perceptions of physical beauty.

Mostly, though, it is another triumph for A Play, A Pie and A Pint – and another poetic gem from Gerda Stevenson with her canny ability to weave disparate ideas, genres and disciplines into a satisfyingly coherent whole.

Running time 45 mins
Run ends Saturday 26 April 2014
Daily 1pm (also 7pm Fri)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED
Tickets from the Traverse website on:

Skelton Wumman on tour:
West Yorkship Playhouse
Tue 29 April – Sat 3 May 2014.
Daily, 6pm.
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Playhouse Square , Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UP
Details on:


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