created by David Greig and Wils Wilson
at the London Welsh Centre, Monday 15th July 2013
“National Theatre of Scotland cannot be held responsible in the event of any member of the audience losing their head, their heart or their very self during the course of the performance”
Last night I was a motorbike.
Part the First
During the first act of Prudencia Hart
An actor pretended I was his kart.
Falling beside me he whispered “Give me your arms”,
Then rose up behind and clamped his palms
Around my wrists.
Then proceeded to drive me, bike-like, with all sorts of twists.
For a few short seconds I was not me
But had surrendered myself to become part of theatre’s visual imagery.
Moments like this happen throughout the show
Which, reading this review you’ll probably know,
Is written in rhyme.
Pretty much the whole time
David Greig’s play is spoken in those things
We like to call couplets, which means the verse sings
And follows the structure of that ancient form:
The Border Ballad. This therefore is the norm.
Prudencia Hart follows the story of an eponymous Pru,
A somewhat traditional academic from Edinburgh who
Goes to a conference and looks a bit of a mallard
As she gets trounced in a debate subtitled “Neither border nor ballad”.
At said meeting are scholars who feel
That the study of balladry is a far bigger deal
Than simply old songs. Here, the argument goes,
We can learn much more about folk and community from those
Aspects of pop culture like chants and X-Factor,
And in this discussion Pru’s confidence lacked her.
The story is one which contains two clear sides
And around this debate the whole thing rides.
On one side the school of thought which believes
That old-fashioned ballads tell our national story best and leaves
The newfangled stuff out of academia.
Opposite them are those who fear
That ignoring the modern form of an ancient song
Is just plain wrong.
We see hear that academics are just
As petty and personal as the rest of us.
Though an intelligent, articulated reason may support
A far-fetched idea, it’s really just short
For “I think this”
Based on personal preferences.
This dichotomy is played out
(In a style akin to a fencing bout)
On Georgia McGuinness’ traverse-style staging in a hot sticky pub;
We become the regulars there and get to rub
Shoulders with this motley crew
And, like them, are invited to ‘have a few’.
Part the Second
After the much-needed interval in the boiling, muggy bar of the London Welsh Centre, the tone of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart changes. She has been led off a B&B with an enormous library on one cold, snowy midwinter’s night by a suspicious looking man who doesn’t leave footprints. And Prudencia’s studies come true as she [SPOILER ALERT] gets locked away in hell for eternity. Here, the production really comes into its own as the mania of the first act gives way to the intensity seen here, rhythm and rhyme discarded in the vaults of hades. Melody Grove is allowed to plunge to new depths in the expansive role of Hart, whilst David McKay and Paul McCole take turns at playing a slimy but charming devil, proving true the folklore that our protagonist has spent her whole life studying.
In this section, Alasdair Macrae’s thumping, joyous music is conspicuous by its absence as we come to note the importance of music and the collective action of singing, even when it is Katy Perry at a karaoke bar. All that Prudencia has in this vast cavernous library in hell is her books, and she lacks the vitality of those academics she once scorned. And then, slowly, she comes to understand the importance of finding poetry within yourself, in the present.
And then as the devil comes to resent
This new-found ability to rhyme
Prudencia decides that it’s the time
To try to break free. But it isn’t quite this simple, as the devil fights back. And here, orally and visually, a battle is enacted between living in the present and living in the past, as we are asked to chant, football-style, in order to save her.
One Colin Syme
There’s only one Colin Syme
One Colin Sy-ime
There’s only one Colin Sy-ime
And then, as we work together as one
It becomes clear that the right person won.
And Wils’ Wilson’s direction allows us to see
That even though we may disagree
On the things we hold highly
Sometimes all you need is a bit of folk-y Kylie.
None of this really explains the show one bit
Not least ’cause my writing is a little bit shit.