The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

Aug 7 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Celebratory

Playfair Library (Venue 311): Wed 3 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Royal Lyceum’s revival of the renowned The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, at the University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library, keeps everything that has made the play such a success. And then adds more on top.

David Greig and Wils Wilson’s worldwide hit, originally staged by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2011, is the story of a buttoned-up researcher into Border Ballads who undergoes a spooky experience after being snowed in at a Kelso pub.

A scene from The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

It is a riotous, over-the-top, yet deceptively serious and haunting cross between a verse comedy and a pub folk session. The immersive performance features lascivious dancers, explorations of the topography of Hell and the relevance of the folk tradition, football chants and lightly-worn musings on the nature of love and artistic creation.

It is difficult to imagine a production of Prudencia that isn’t wildly enjoyable. Even those who are averse to audience interaction should warm to that on display, which is (largely) low-key.


This production, however, seems to dial things up a notch. Maybe the two original creators (back in harness here) are re-energised by revisiting the material. Maybe the sheer relief at staging the sort of no-holds-barred hooley that seemed unlikely to surface ever again has taken over. Or maybe it is something else. At any rate, some kind of theatrical fairy dust has been sprinkled over this.

Charlene Boyd as Prudencia Hart. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

Greig’s verse apparently derives equally from folk ballads, Robert Service, music hall and those rhyming couplets that introduced the comic strips in the Sunday Post Fun Section. It is hugely versatile, frequently funny and thoroughly impressive, but can sometimes seem a shade heavy-handed. Some of the tonal shifts also have the potential to jar. None of that happens here, with a cast that make it all seem entirely natural.

Charlene Boyd’s Prudencia is particularly impressive. The character’s unsympathetic exterior can lead to her being sidelined in her own story, but Boyd’s command of her emotional complexities is particularly praiseworthy.

thrillingly coherent ensemble

Gavin Jon Wright and Ewan Black’s versatility is another noteworthy facet of what is a thrillingly coherent ensemble. Natali McCleary, similarly, can switch from comedy to seriousness at will. Musical director Alasdair Macrae’s relish at some of the more ludicrous lines he is called upon to perform is thoroughly infectious.

Wilson’s command of the material is absolute, but not at the expense of the extreme energy on display. There is a frighteningly high level of skill at times, but it is always at the service of the piece. Janice Parker’s movement direction (assisted by Jenna Corker) is absolutely first-rate – as indeed it has to be, considering the proximity of the audience to the performers.

Charlene Boyd as Prudencia Hart. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

The Playfair Library, with its venerable busts and huge ceilings, would seem at first glance to be a better fit for those parts of the play set in an infinite library than for a Kelso lock-in, but any such doubts evaporate in moments. Once again, Wilson’s enviable theatrical knowhow, allied to the wonderful design (originally by Georgia McGuinness, with Alex Berry as associate) makes it quickly seem that it is the most obvious home imaginable for the piece.

All concerned are on top of their game here. It is a wonderful tribute to so many traditions – not least folk music, or the ‘play with songs’ strand of Scottish theatre. It is, however (despite the play being a few years old now, and some of the references starting to creak) defiantly modern and inclusive. And also tremendous, tremendous fun.

Running time: two hours 35 minutes (including one interval)
University of Edinburgh Playfair Library, Old College, South Bridge, EH8 9YL (Venue 311)
Wednesday 3 – Sunday 28 August 2022 (not Mons)
Tue – Sat: 19:30; Mats, Sat/Sun: 14.30.
Information and tickets: Book here.

Show website:
Instagram: @prudenciahart
Facebook: @PrudenciaHart

A scene from The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Pic: Ryan Buchanan


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