The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

David Greig
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Double M Arts and Events
University of Edinburgh Playfair Library

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

When putting on a piece of prestige theatre during the Fringe, it helps to have a stage to match. And for a piece such as this, you could barely ask for a better setting than the towering vaulted ceiling and stacked, statue-stocked shelves of the Edinburgh University Playfair Library.

Decked out like a society dinner, the main hall of the library lets the audience in and around the action of the play, as the actors and musicians step and strut around the room, telling the story from all corners. The setting adds a feeling of a ceilidh as much as the academic weight and atmosphere. It also allows some limited audience interaction, and a lot of opportunity for comedic moments.

Greig’s play is a self-referentially aware reworking of the myth of Tam Lim, recasting the roles of Tam and the Elf Queen into the 20th century titular academic Prudencia and the Devil himself, Old Nick.

It’s a long and involved play, following Prudencia’s doomed visit to a Kelso academic seminar on Scottish folk ballads, where she gets into a heated debate with fellow academics and then winds up in a rowdy pub during a blizzard. But as the piece winds through the tale, told partly in rhyme and metre and suffused with live music and song, it never loses the rowdy humour or the smart observations on academic bluster or popular culture.

If there’s a flaw, it’s that at two hours long, you start to feel it a little during the second half, which also eschews a lot of the music and poetry for a more dramatic and contextually drawn-out piece of storytelling. That aside, this is a lively, and raucous piece of Fringe theatre, and definitely a highlight.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan