The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – Review

Mar 19 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Eerily joyous

Melody Grove. Photo © Johan Perrson

Melody Grove. Photo © Johan Perrson

Assembly Roxy
Tues 18 – Sat 22 February 2014
Review by Hugh Simpson

Playful and proficient, David Greig and Wils Wilson’s celebrated production for the National Theatre of Scotland continues to delight audiences and is well worthy of any compliments it has been paid.

Buttoned-up academic Prudencia attends a conference on border ballads (‘Neither Border Nor Ballad?’) in snowbound Kelso, escaping to a lock-in at the pub before sinking into devilish happenings involving B&Bs and supermarket car parks…

In truth, however, any attempt to sum up what happens is doomed to failure, as this play does not just cross lines dividing genres, it crashes merrily through them. In its gleeful mixing of comedy, tragedy, the supernatural and the realistic, it makes use of a whole bag of genres from poetry to old-fashioned variety turns.

In this, as in its use of a cast of actor/singer/musicians, it is reminiscent of some of the most celebrated Scottish touring companies of yesteryear, albeit without the explicitly political focus which marked them out.

Although there are echoes throughout Greig’s script of the border ballads, you do not need to be an expert on the muckle sangs to derive a huge amount of enjoyment from the story. Furthermore, although much of the dialogue is in rhyming couplets, it owes little to traditional ballad form or metre; there are hints of later balladeers like Robert Service, but at times the influence of DC Thomson seems just as strong. Ludicrous rhymes like ‘clarsachs’ and ‘bar snacks’ only serve to make the dialogue more enjoyable.

Wils Wilson’s site-specific direction means the story unfolds in and around the performing space; the audience are an integral part of the show, but without the toe-curling embarrassment of much ‘audience participation’. The versatile and skilled cast make the whole thing seem entirely natural and apparently spontaneous; there is no sign of the production flagging despite its successful and far-flung tours.

“rambunctious stage presence”

Each of the performers have obvious specialities – Annie Grace’s magnificent singing, Paul McCole and David McKay’s ability to switch from comedy to pathos in the blink of an eye, musical director Aly Macrae’s rambunctious stage presence – but they all bring equal commitment to a variety of roles.

Melody Grove as Prudencia - as yet not undone. Photo © Johan Perrson

Melody Grove as Prudencia – as yet not undone. Photo © Johan Perrson

Melody Grove’s performance in the title role is extremely accomplished, evoking the audience’s sympathy and suggesting volumes from the smallest of movements. At its heart, however, this is definitely an ensemble piece, with Janice Parker’s movement direction adding greatly to the narrative. Georgia McGuinness’s design also manages to make the whole thing seem as natural as breathing.

This is certainly a thoroughly accessible piece of theatre that has an extremely broad appeal. Like the ballads it references, it is entirely Scottish while still evoking universal themes. The hints of deeper concerns are all the more welcome for being lightly worn and part of an enjoyable whole.

The high points are as effective as anything you could see. The standard and focus do dip a little at times; some of the jokes are a little too obvious, while the more self-consciously poetic and redemptive moments do not always bear the weight that is being put on them.

Nevertheless, this is a highly successful production whose run should go on as long as possible. Be warned that this is a lock-in in a very strict sense; you may be in a pub, but you are not allowed to come and go during the performance. The whisky and sandwiches more than compensate, however.

Running time 2 hours 40 minutes including interval
Run ends Saturday 22 February 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Information from
Box Office: Traverse Theatre 0131 228 1404 Website:

Click above to purchase the script from Amazon

Also playing:
Maryhill Burgh Halls, Glasgow

10-24 Gairbraid Avenue, Glasgow, G20 8YE.
Tue 25, Wed 26, Fri 28, Sat 29 March: 7.30pm; Sat 29 mat: 2.30pm; Sun 30 mat: 3pm.
Box Office: Tron Theatre 0141 552 4267;


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