Adelaide Festival: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Photo by Drew Farrell.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Photo by Drew Farrell.

A bar in Adelaide’s German Club is the setting for the National Theatre Of Scotland’s production of The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart.

It begins innocuously enough as all 5 cast members gently play some ancient folk songs from the British Isles at the back of the room to a capacity audience – without the audience taking much notice. It could be any bar anywhere with a local band and the ambient din of a talkative crowd. Until the room’s doors are closed and the audience and the performers are locked-in to each other and to the long, unfolding tale of Prudencia Hart.

Writer David Greig wrote this piece for working pubs hence, quite effectively, there is no stage; the actors use the whole of the room, moving between tables, standing on tables and the bar and enlisting audience members into elements of the story. Audience participation is crucial to this performance and worked well for the show and the audience.

The cast, Annie Grace, Alasdair Macrae, Paul McCole, David Mckay and Melody Grove (as Prudencia) deliver a highly energised drama with humour and present an exhaustive script with meticulous execution.

As strange as the tale might be it’s also as ancient as some of the folk songs performed. That may be due to the fact this work was, at least in part, inspired by a traditional Scottish ceilidh and the poems of Robert Burns and Robert Service with Greig making much use of rhyming couplets – met with genuine appreciation by an audience of mixed age-range.

It’s mid-winter and the prim Prudencia is attending an academics conference “The Borders Ballad; neither border nor ballad”. Naturally a love triangle ensues, albeit a strange one, and dear Prudence embarks on a journey of self-discovery – sexual, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

Even with the combined energy of the performers, the lyrical playfulness of the script and the efficacy of director Wils Wilson and movement director Janice Parker, at over 2 and a half hours (including an interval) the show is at least 20 minutes too long. The breadth of the storyline isn’t so challenging that it commands such a long running time.

In the end, while the story is as quaint as the old ballads that underwrite it, The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart brings ample entertainment and a few pleasant surprises along the way to its audience, many of who seemed to leave the room with a strange after-glow.

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