MARY Anning should perhaps join Thomas Hardy as the first names to come to mind when Dorset is mentioned, and although her story has been better known in recent years, her extraordinary achievements are still not really synonymous with the Jurassic Coast, as it is now designated.
That situation has been improved by Tracy Chevalier’s wonderful (but clunkily named) book Remarkable Creatures, and the AsOne touring production of The Cabinet Maker’s Daughter.
Now there are five more opportunities to see Alison Neil’s marvellous show The Fossil Lady of Lyme, on its first (I suspect of many) Artsreach tours.
The solo show is performed in the detailed and complicated setting of the Annings’ Curiosities Depot in Lyme Regis in the first half of the 19th century. It is filled with boxes of the fossils that Mary found on the cliffs, especially at Black Ven, and sold on to customers interested by the publicity given to her discoveries.
She WAS famous, but not in the academic circles in which she wanted recognition. But Mary was a realist, and women just didn’t count in those days of intellectual ferment, when the “clever men” found the courage and the evidence to challenge the dogma of the bible and its traditional interpretations.
This poor girl from the tiny houses around the sea at Lyme spotted, unearthed and put together some of the most important fossil remains ever discovered in the British Isles.
Hers was the first Ichthyosaurus, the first Plesiosaurus and the first Pterodactyl, all named by the classical scholars who claimed them as their own. For Mary and her widowed mother, they were a means to put food on the table.
Alison Neil’s mesmerising and richly varied performance introduces the audience not only to Mary and her parents, but to various
“important men” who came to ask her help and opinions, from William Buckland and William Conybeare to her friend Henry de la Beche, her benefactor LtCol Birch, Roderick Murchison and foreign collectors including Baron Georges Cuvier.
In 2010, Mary’s name was included in the the Royal Society list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.
If you want an introduction to the life and times of this remarkable woman, go and see Alison Neil bring her to vibrant, and sometimes comical, life.
The show will be performed at 7.30pm at the village halls at Langton Matravers on 26th, Melbury Osmond on 27th and Bourton on 28th February and at Thorncombe and Winfrith Newburgh on Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd March.
Visit the Artsreach website for more details.