Woman Walking

Oct 21 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Moving

Traverse: Fri 20 – Sat 21 Oct 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Woman Walking from Sylvian Productions, which is ending a short Scottish tour at the Traverse, is a rich and ruminative exploration of loss and the power of nature.

Sylvia Dow’s play is a meditative and gently emotional one, showing experienced hillwalker Cath (Pauline Lockhart) dealing with grief and guilt after the death of her mother. Cath is joined in the Cairngorms by Nan Shepherd (Fletcher Mathers), the poet and novelist from the North-East whose nature writing in particular has become deservedly celebrated recently.

Fletcher Mathers and Pauline Lockhart in Woman Walking. Pic: Kelman Greig-Kicks/Neon8

Quite how Nan comes to be there (is she just a projection of Cath’s inner conflicts?) is never really explained, but this is not a problem in Dow’s subtle script.

Which is just one of the ways in which the play admirably keeps away from easy choices – it is in no way a biography of Shepherd, despite providing sufficient detail for anyone unfamiliar with her. It is also never made explicit exactly what time of year the events are taking place or even what period of time they take up. Instead, it proceeds at its own pace, with changes in the weather cleverly demonstrated by the effective lighting of Laura Hawkins.

grounded authority

There is an emotional clarity to the performances of Lockhart and Mathers that is both absorbing and undeniably truthful. Lockhart’s initially spiky desire for solitude gives way to a beautifully played exploration of loss and remorse. The excellent Mathers manages to give her character both the necessary otherworldly air and a grounded authority.

Not everything comes off quite as well. The dialogue, while largely impressive, strives just a little too hard for poetic grandeur on occasion and can tip over into portentousness.

Pauline Lockhart and Fletcher Mathers in Woman Walking. Pic: Kelman Greig-Kicks/Neon8

The time-honoured device of having a figure from the past confronted with the modern world is not always used convincingly. Shepherd’s reaction to the reduced size of the £5 note is fine, but it is less convincing to have someone who lived into the 1980s (and who was working in further education in the 1950s) apparently unfamiliar with the very idea of Elvis Presley.

On the whole, however, the dialogue maintains a fine balance between the light and the heavy. Becky Hope-Palmer’s direction similarly balances the emotion with the humour in a way that gives the piece a commendable rhythm. Philip Pinsky’s sound design is clever and evocative, while Karen Tennent’s stylised set and costume design stay on just the right side of over-exaggeration.


As so often with a piece that clocks in at almost exactly an hour, there is a feeling that the length is somewhat arbitrary. In this case (and somewhat rarely) the impression is that it could have been longer, and is finishing just when it is getting into its stride. A recommendation in itself for a piece that undoubtedly has imperfections but is compelling nonetheless.

Running time: One hour (no interval).
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Friday 20 – Saturday 21 October 2023
Evenings at 8.00 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

Sylian Productions website: www.sylvianproductions.co.uk
Facebook: @SylvianProductions
X (Twitter): @SYLVIANProducer
Instagram: sylvianproductions

Pauline Lockhart and Fletcher Mathers in Woman Walking. Pic: Kelman Greig-Kicks/Neon8


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