The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (Glasgow)
Devil take the hindmost ...
Come in, pal. Welcome to Maryhill Burgh Halls. Sit yourself doon and get ready for a night of theatre as mixed as the gin and tonic slowly warming in your glass. I'll pour you a wee dram. Just sit there and listen, like a child enthralled by stories of witches and pixies, to the tale of "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart", our fallen heroine, a doctor of Scottish literature who went looking for knowledge and found the Devil.
An elegy for and a eulogy to the lost narrative forms of the Scottish Ballads, the National Theatre of Scotland's tale of Satan and scholasticism is a fun and at times beautiful night of song and poetry. Performed by a small task of musicians and darkly comic actors, it is a piece obsessed with rhyme and metre, like watching an episode of "The League of Gentleman" written by Noel Coward.
Though the exposition is well-written, there is a pervading feeling that the niche discussions of academia and PhDs might alienate much of the audience. What Stoppard did for Romantic poetry in "Arcadia", David Greig does for the Scottish Ballads in "Prudencia Hart", and one cannot help but feel that this may be the most esoteric production staged by the NTS yet.
The setting of Maryhill Burgh Halls, too, feels a little too much as though a bride and groom might appear at any moment to cut a cake that doesn't exist, losing much of the apparent intimacy and authenticity of other stagings of the play. Furthermore, it doesn't really feel like a true artistic performance until the sing-song and rhyme is broken and the actors are allowed to speak in prose. As a consequence, it has much less dramatic impact than one might expect.
Nonetheless this is an enjoyable piece of theatre and the kind of performance that would make its audience feel like it was Friday night, even if watched at 11am on a Monday morning.