David Greig and National Theatre
of Scotland have created something across the board brilliant with
At times hilarious, at times haunting, this twist on Scottish folk narratives delivers clever writing, beautiful music, and hysterical comedic acting
Titular Prudencia Hart has devoted her academic career to border ballads, and it is these very stories that inspire this play. The narrative is constructed artfully, sending the young Hart to Kelso in the midst of a snowstorm. She is surrounded by colleagues she neither likes nor understands, socially wrong-footed and vulnerable to the wiles of a mysterious, intimidating man with an enviable library. Such a story, along with the lingering melodies of Scottish folk music, and the initial sing-song of rhyming couplets could suggest an overwhelmingly dream-like aesthetic, and certainly it does deliver that at times. But that is only a fraction of the genius of this show. In one moment, the music and the endearing earnestness of Jessica Hardwick’s Hart is bewitching your soul into the devilish blizzard. In the next, you are the blizzard, throwing pieces of torn up white napkins on the actors in audience participation so bizarre its cathartic.
There is no stage for Prudencia, the play is instead performed in the midst of the audience. The enthusiasm of the cast is utterly infectious, literally drawing their audience into the story and somehow succeeding in encouraging a willing suspension of disbelief profound enough to supersede the fact that there is no set and very minimal costumes and tech. The five actors persist in a constant flurry of animated activity, bouncing from role to role, dancing on tables, flirting with the audience, leading them in a raucous football chant at the climax of the narrative and, in the resolution, succumbing to the infectious beat of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”. Yet for all the inanity, none of it ever comes across as inauthentic. Every element holds its own as a powerful piece of this uncommon theatrical experience. Similarly no actor truly outshines their fellow cast mates, as together they demonstrate a remarkable chemistry.
Prudencia twists together lulling Scottish storytelling and enthusiastic live music, cultivating a sense of warm and somewhat inebriated nostalgia further stirred by this familiar folklore smooth with age. But it is likewise expertly refreshed by being displaced into our modern day, with Asda carparks and arrogant co-workers on motorcycles and all. This play both entertains superbly and teaches the audience that trusting a mysterious stranger may be your undoing, but it may well be your salvation.