The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart by David Greig – Eastern Angles – touring until 27th May
Eastern Angles latest major outing has been touring since March 15th – but I have only just managed to catch up with it. And I must say this is a rather strange, eclectic beast. Unusually Ivan Cutting has chosen an off the peg play rather than a home grown one – and one set in Scotland to boot. But with the company continuing their increasing relationship with Peterborough and a tour of Cathedral Mysteries coming up, it seems as though there just wasn’t time to create yet another play from scratch.
David Greig is an acclaimed and well respected playwright with a huge body of work including the book for the musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which opened in the West End in 2013.
This particular play was first presented by the National Theatre of Scotland at the Victoria Bar of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow – and if ever a play cried out for a particular type of venue it is this one.
Part folk night, part dramatic re-telling of folk tales and part drama – it tells the story of one Prudencia Hart, played with pluck by Hannah Howie, who is studying folk lore and gathering folk tales from the Borders – and weirdly is also an expert on hell. However this is all academic until at a conference in Kelso she gets stranded by the snow. And so begins a strange journey where she meets weirder and weirder characters until she goes to hell and meets the devil himself. The whole thing is told in rhyme with a hefty dose of folk music and puppetry in a whirlwind of strange imagery and flights of imagination.
You can’t fault the four strong cast – a set of talented actor/musicians who play a multitude of parts and instruments and whose beautiful and harmonious voices lift the story to another level. The puppets are well done – and the pace is kept up to nigh on frenetic. There is humour too as well as darkness.
The problem was the venue. This is a piece that needs the pub setting – a crowd around the actors, whisky in hand, smoky room, bar stools – the action happening around you. At the very least it needed to be performed in the round with the audience at tables with a drink. Sitting in rows in a village hall just didn’t work.
The piece also relies heavily on a love for the folk music of the 60’s – Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch – and some knowledge of Scottish folk lore. If like me this all passed you by – you may be struggling to make sense of any of it.
Director Hal Chambers and the cast work hard to create an atmosphere – and to produce a finely tuned evening of myth and song. But I think I would like to see it all again in a Edinburgh backstreet tavern before I could judge whether it is a bit of a mish mash or an inventive a piece of genius.