For the Love of Ballads: National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

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It is hard to perform a play in a unconventional space. There are drinks being served and sometimes people don’t really want to listen to the dialog. You need to be incredibly engaging to keep their attention. The artists touring from the National Theatre of Scotland have mastered this, and David Greig and Wils Wilson have created a relatively engaging piece entitled The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart that these artists perform among the drinks in the close quarters of The Club at the Banff Centre.

It’s an evening of music and narrative and movement. The play tells the story of Prudencia Hart (Jessica Hardwick) who goes to a folk studies conference in Kelso, in the Scottish borders. She is uptight and proper and cannot stand her companion, not by choice, Colin Symes (Paul McCole). He jokes around and in her opinion he doesn’t see the beauty in the art of the traditional ballad.

The Strange Undoing uses a technique of incorporating elements of its subject into the fabric of the play. As Prudencia talks about folk studies and poetry, this portion of the play is told in rhyme. It all fits in poetic meter, paired with guitar and sometimes a banjo, the first half of the play is a delight. There is foreshadowing and the musicians get the audience involved throughout the play. They had to make snow, by ripping up pieces of napkins, and the air was filled with it when it was snowing in the story. The artists switch back and forth telling the story with rapid ease, playing off of one another. It’s energetic and dynamic, involving some amazing harmonies. You would think you were in a bar in Scotland.

However, Prudencia eventually gets lost and lured to a bed & breakfast just outside of a Costco parking lot. And the cast stops talking in rhyme, opting for their speech to be in prose. Prudencia makes this remark in the narrative and though it fits into the story, the energy of the narrative just leaks away. The play in the second act oddly loses it’s charm, not because it’s a softer part in the story, but due to the rest of the cast not participating as often. It drags in this portion, which is unfortunate because they close the first half on such a high.

When the story comes back around to its conclusion, it begins to pick up again. Themes are carried throughout by the writing skills of Greig and the play closes with satisfaction. The sheer talent of the cast is outstanding. They adapt and harmonize as they go along. It makes The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart really entertaining and dynamic, though it has it slow portions.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart plays one more night at the Banff Centre. More information is available online.

Photo Credit: Johan Perrson

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