The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

David Greig
National Theatre of Scotland
Traverse Ghillie Dhu

This play might start and end in Kelso last year but in between, the heroine spends time to infinity in the company of the Devil, AKA a mild-mannered B&B owner called Nick.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart gets off to a good start thanks to its location at the Ghillie Dhu upstairs bar, which boasts fine architecture and its own pipe organ.

Here, a quintet of actor-musicians entertain their audience for 2¾ hours with a combination of music and poetry, expertly pastiching the Border Ballads, according to one of my companions, a Scottish folklorist with rare expertise in the subject.

Not only does David Greig get the rhyming right but the metre too, demonstrating the dedicated research that he brings to all of his work. The play also has the mythic quality that this form demands.

Prudencia Hart, played by Madeleine Worrall, is a spinsterish Professor who specialises in Scottish folklore.

She travels to the Borders to deliver a paper at a tedious conference and, on the Midwinter Solstice, gets lost in a snowy car park, while escaping the unwanted attentions of Andy Clark's Colin.

There, she somehow falls upon Old Nick (David McKay). He holds her in a Hell furnished with a heavenly library for a few millennia before a final tug of love leads to a happy ending.

The traditional music is jaunty and lively, performed by this trio plus Annie Grace and composer Alasdair Macrae. They also modernise successfully, as Miss Worrall becomes a wannabe Karaoke Kylie.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart tells a modern story in an ancient style. The show wears its research lightly and is great fun, with the cast weaving their way through the audience under the expert guidance of director Wils Wilson.

This strange tale functions simultaneously as mystery and love stories, warming the heart as much as the whisky that is given away by sponsors at the close does the stomach.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher