The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
By David Greig, National Theatre of Scotland
Perth Festival, until Feb 24; Adelaide Festival, March 1-9.
THE National Theatre of Scotland provided a knockout at last year's Perth Festival with Beautiful Burnout, a dramatic play set in the world of boxing. The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart doesn't match that effort.
Prudencia Hart (Melody Grove) is an academic with a romantic streak, obsessed by border ballads and portraits of hell conjured up in folk tales. She hates modish literary theory and encounters an infernal situation when she's stuck at a conference full of time-serving academics, including the laddish Colin (Paul McCole), who's writing a thesis on football chants.
A wild night of karaoke soon sends Prudencia into her own personal hell.
David Greig's play isn't his best work. It's a modern iteration of the Scottish ceilidh (a gathering with song and dancing) that riffs off supernatural folk tales but doesn't deepen or probe them. Instead, the play, written partly in rhyming verse, leaves us with a not very credible love story marred by unfortunate sexual politics. The lead character's choices seem limited only to being validated in some way by hideous men and her main power lies in sexual wiles.
It can still be enjoyed as a comic romp, although the action is massively laboured and the slightness of the story does not sustain the length of the piece.
Alasdair Macrae's songs rove from haunting to festive and providing a sense of the uncanny that enriches the folkloric undercurrent. You can't fault the actors. The shapeless writing, the woolly thinking behind Prudencia Hart, and languid direction are to blame.
Cameron Woodhead was a guest of the Perth Festival.