Writer: David Greig
Director: Wils Wilson
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
We desire the old, don’t we? So often our post-modern cravings for instant narratives, gratifications all echo our universal need for ballads. It’s why we find such charm or kitsch in firelight pubs, festivals and stories. We simply cannot, regardless of cold academics or modern technology, refute our heritage. Particularly in Scotland. The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart produced by the National Theatre of Scotland is returning home. So, take this chance to benefit from its delivery of borders, ballads and a dram.
In the void of darkness, a structure we might be familiar with collapses. What was an awkwardly stylised setting unravels into the romanticised nostalgic. The unsuspecting coasters on the tables before our arrival, the presence of the bar and even the cocktail swords (yes, seriously) all play a part on a post-modern narrative masquerading in the past. Telling a theatrical ballad in this manner is certainly nothing new, any Festival Fringe show will demonstrate this, however it has never felt as necessary as Prudencia Hart does.
Prudencia finds herself at the precipice where magic and modernity clash. Seemingly unable to meld in the modern world. Ballads, songs and rhymes of the past dissected, torn apart ironically by those who study them out of ‘love’. Her egocentric, laddish colleague finds himself butting heads with Prudencia but when the snow of 2010 hits the Borders town of Kelso, both become trapped in one of the ballads they so richly admire. Fleeing into the night Prudencia’s understandings unravel. The deeper she wanders into the darkness, the more archaic her encounters. The more enticing her temptations. A scorching sexual awakening lit, not by alcohol or flirtation, but the sentimental lure of Burns’s Tam O’ Shanter.
Reprising their roles from a stint in New York; Jessica Hardwick and Peter Hannah as Prudencia and Nick are accompanied by Gwendolen Chatfield, George Drennan and Owen Whitelaw. Perhaps the most nauseating thing is that there is nothing to mention about all these performers outside of their brilliance. Not one member lets the production down. Hardwick and Hannah’s interpretations of their characters, the slow build and revelations are well-paced, subtle (when needed) but also passionate. Chatfield’s vocals, imperative to the ballad, achieves the folklore dream of birthing a smile, all whilst your neck shivers, haunted.
As you sit there, tearing napkins into snowflakes for the production, you unwittingly embark on that sense of community. The bard entertaining the rabble as they jeer and drink. You give yourself over to the show without thought to the performers climbing upon the tables. Composed with David Greig’s limerick-based metre writings, Wils Wilson’s earthy production marries comedy into a script which gracefully descends into poetry seamlessly.
As the post-structural concepts manifest through the Devil themselves. The movement pieces, though only fleeting are intense. Communicating a deeper struggle of (unrequited) love, escape and sentimentality. At its core, Prudencia Hart isn’t just centred around its musicality but every performance form it can unleash.
So, spare a thought for the Devil, won’t you? Indulge in this, the ripe heart of the beggar’s opera. This pasquinade of bardic telling is both a lampoon and yet also a tribute. Perhaps a minute or two can be shaved from scenes, but the Devil is in the details. Endearingly timeless, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is storytelling at this country’s purest.
Runs until 19 May 2018 | Image: Contributed