Review: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart by David Greig, Eastern Angles, touring until May 27.
- Credit: Archant
Do you fancy dancing with the devil at midnight under a clear moonlit sky? If the answer is ‘no’ then you may be missing out on a fabulously entertaining night at the theatre.
Eastern Angles have revived a play originally commissioned in 2011 by the National Theatre of Scotland which examines the nature of folk tales in the Scottish borders. Prudencia Hart, played with bright-eyed wonder by Hannah Howie, is a collector of traditional border ballads. She may love the romance and the battles between good and evil they depict but she is essentially a collector who seeks to catalogue and record the works rather than ‘live them’.
As her arch-rival Dr Colin Syme, played with gleeful narcissism by Robin Hemmings, points out she is little more than a glorified librarian – that is until she escapes a rather alarming lock-in at a snow-bound pub and meets the charming owner of a local B&B, who it turns out is something of a collector of folk tales too and invites her to have a wander through his rather impressive library. At this point her experience of border ballads becomes more than academic.
Under the direction of Hal Chambers, this production is a cross between a genuinely upbeat folk gig with lots of great playing and a rather unnerving tale of the supernatural with a generous helping of academic satire thrown in for good measure.
The elements combine extremely well to create an evening like no other. All the actors – Simon Donaldson, Elspeth Turner along with Howie and Hemmings – all deliver brilliantly energetic and thoughtful performances and make up a decent folk band. In addition to the play proper they are on stage warming up, playing and greeting the audience before the show and are back out in the hall before the interval is half over.
Simon Donaldson relishes his role as an increasingly conflicted devil while Elspeth Turner turns her hand to a variety of roles from garrulous pub landlady to uptight academic and acts as an unofficial narrator.
The staging of the play, with the audience sat at tables in front of Bex Palmer’s lovingly detailed pub set, gives the whole evening an immersive quality that works well. Hal Chambers often uses the tables as part of the action making the audience feel very involved.
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Playwright David Greig cleverly inverts reality by ensuring that all the dialogue spoken in the real world is delivered in rhyme while the scenes set in hell are spoken as prose.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart delivers a satisfyingly unusual evening of theatre, which is both entertaining and packed full of inventive ideas. Terrific stuff.