Sir Walter Scott’s collection of the Border Ballads is a great jumping off point for David Greig’s modern folk tale of an earnest academic, Prudencia Hart, setting out in search of enlightenment at a literary conference in Kelso.
But Wils Wilson’s production for the National Theatre of Scotland is definitely a game of two halves: the first vigorous and engaging, the second feeble and repetitive. And the challenge of making a modern equivalent of those robust accounts of border conflict is given over to Prudencia’s journey into the hell of a Kelso B&B. Her satanic host (David McKay) offers jigsaws and a view of rain falling on an Asda car park, while her academic rival (Andy Clark) turns into a drunken hooligan on the night of the devils’ ceilidh.
There is some Steeleye Span-style folk rock, if you like that sort of thing, and a free wee dram at the interval if you want to give the sponsors your email address. Madeleine Worrall plays Prudencia with spinsterish winsomeness and only comes alive when she sings. Otherwise, the jollity of it all seemed forced to me, and over-reliant on the good fortune of being played out in the wonderful new vaulted space of the Ghillie Due, one of the city’s great pubs next to the Caledonian Hotel.