The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – Review by David Bithell

Was it a dream or a drug fuelled dance with the devil? Or just a bunch of ghostly goings on.
As I left the theatre I wondered what I had just witnessed. A very thought provoking play telling the tale of Prudencia Hart.
A play of poetic ballads set in Kelso, Scotland telling the story of Prudencia Hart who is an academic attending a conference following her graduation from the Edinburgh school of Scottish studies. The play set in midwinter and a script which is in fact a rhyme or poem (if you like) and derived from a book by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.
When Prudencia leaves the conference; this is when the epic journey begins. She discovers the passions, the lusts and loves that her academic persona had previously deprived her. In a cold, long dark wintery night, the story goes from her studies to actual lived experience.
Anna Marsland’s production at the New Vic’s creates something special due to the round experience which helps the audience to participate especially during the bar scenes. From the moment we enter the theatre auditorium we are made to feel we are part of the Kelso pub.
From EM Parry’s quirky costume design, Suni La’s prim and smart Prudencia in her purple hat and genuine jumper, she keeps her distance from suited students with typical post grad haircuts before things turn weird and four characters appear in devilish red tops and black eyeliner. With the collection of books dropping overhead and the depths of hell lurking below, EM Parry’s set keeps on springing the occasional surprise.
The play felt a bit on the long side especially with the poetic dialogue, but by definition it had to be so we could appreciate what was unfolding and gave us the chance to understand David Fair’ devil (both sophisticated and irritable, and appeared to detest hell more than Prudencia does), Marsland manages to paint a real dark picture of this new unfounded place.
Where La is as sincere and long-suffering as every fable heroine should be, Matthew McVarish brings a note of attachable gusto to her otherwise boorish academic rival Colin Syme; the two characters really prove opposites can attract. There is plenty of hard work from Alice Blundell and Eleanor House, jumping energetically between supporting characters and treating the audience to lovely renditions of folk songs, giving this dark story a light hearted approach.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart runs at The New Vic until Saturday 13th July.