Wandering Bones is new drama written and performed by Kym Hunt of Mangonel Theatre. It tells the story of John Adam who, in 1835, moved to the Highlands of Scotland and murdered a woman there. The story encompasses his life from a few years before the tumultuous events, to over 165 years after his death.
The story begins dramatically, with the pronouncement "John Adam… you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead", punctuated by the slamming of a battered trunk covered in travel stickers. Hunt proceeds to confidently narrate the tale of Adam, a cad of a man who appeared to be in the habit of getting young ladies in trouble. By 1835 Adam is on the run from the church, seeking payment for at least one of his children, and the army, who he has deserted and stolen from. He is also trying to live a double life with two women: the first, Jane Brechin, whom he has married for money; the second, Dorothy Elliott, who he appears to have been in a romantic relationship with. Not everyone in this tangled web will survive.
The case is a fascinating one, and it is easy to see why Hunt chose it for this production. Adam was the last person to be hanged in Inverness; additionally, he was also one of the last people to face the ‘Ordeal of the Bier’ a rather gruesome procedure where the accused is forced to attest to a number of statements while touching the corpse of the victim. And the story does not end with his death; his head was removed and sent to be examined by phrenologists in Edinburgh and his body has been disinterred multiple times, due to the fact that it was given to the keep of the local constabulary, and had to be moved whenever they did.
Hunt presents the story as a simple narrative, but, at around 35 minutes in length, Wandering Bones is very short even by Fringe standards. The story is complete and it doesn’t need padding out with extraneous detail, but it still feels a little abrupt and the show could have benefited from something more; perhaps we could see pictures of the areas mentioned, or maybe of his death mask, which is on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery here in Edinburgh.
Wandering Bones is an enjoyable, albeit short, presentation of the lamentable life and death of an infamous murderer.