‘It’s difficult to know where to start
With the strange undoing of Prudencia Hart.’
So begins David Greig’s eponymous revel,
In which a Scottish academic has a tryst with the devil –
And such is the potency of this heady Scots brew,
That said couplet could easily begin my review.
Since its 2011 premiere at the Tron in Glasgow,
The play’s toured the world, from São Paulo to Chicago.
Only now, however, does it reach London’s capital,
But it was well worth the wait, and the audience lap it all
The production’s incongruities were initially distracting:
Evoking snow ’midst a heatwave is always exacting,
And the choice of venue – the London Welsh Centre’s bar –
For a play so essentially Scottish did jar.
Yet, within minutes of starting, these concerns disappeared
As we were whisked to a world at once boisterous and weird.
Prudencia Hart is a folk song collector
In an academic community that largely rejects her –
At a conference in Kelso, to which she’s invited,
The academics display an obsession short-sighted
With ‘performativity’, ‘discourse’ and pop culture allusions –
Ideals of beauty conspicuous by their exclusions.
Snowed in by a blizzard, in a pub she takes cover
With Colin, her rival – or, potentially, lover?
Disheartened and wrecked by the conference’s failure,
Things get worse when a ‘folk night’ becomes a bacchanalia –
Not for Kelso Folk Club Robert Burns or Tam Lin;
They prefer karaoke, licence and sin.
To a remote bed and breakfast Prudencia retreats –
But the guesthouse is Hell, and the owner The Beast…
Greig’s dialogue is clever, unpacking tradition,
With an ear for humour and shrewd composition.
His rhymes, too, are witty, and for illustration
Here are some samples for your delectation:
’We won’t begin with Prudencia’s birth
Or her use of objects to maintain self-worth.’
‘Don’t they say at academic beanos
The best talk happens over the cappuccinos?’
Yet if there’s anything that makes the night so alive,
It’s the wonderful dynamism of the play’s cast of five.
They move through the crowd, fuelling their interaction,
Performing folk songs and pop music between all the action.
Melody Grove is electric as the titular lead,
Evolving to lover of life from killjoy in tweed.
David McKay’s louche devil, Annie Grace’s fine voice,
Paul McCole’s buoyant Colin – all cause for rejoice.
With Alasdair Macrae’s music, and Wils Wilson’s direction,
Prudencia’s a joy from its very inception.
If you’re suspicious of theatre written in verse, if
You’re doubtful of theatre that’s flat-out immersive,
Then cast out your notions, you’re in good company:
Those attributes apply equally to me.
Yet I emerged from the theatre exultant, enchanted:
Into Greig’s playful universe I had been transplanted.
I advise only one cautionary measure:
During the bacchanalia scene where the guests indulge in pleasure,
Young male spectators should take a less exposed seat –
Or else risk an experience they won’t wish to repeat…
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is playing as part of Theatre Local with Royal Court Theatre. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Court Theatre website.