THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART
by David Greig and Wils Wilson.
Ghillie Dhu 2 Rutland Place EH1 2AD To 28 August 2011.
Runs 2hr 15min One (sort-of) interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 August.
Perfectly placed in Edinburgh, with a mix of personality and fantasy.
An upstairs room at Ghillie Dhu, surrounded by an array of whiskies and bottles, with a baronial sense of space and the feel of uniqueness, despite being only a staircase and a few stone steps off Edinburgh’s West End, seems the perfect match for the mood of this Border Ballad-derived piece from the National Theatre Scotland, presented as part of the Traverse Theatre’s Festival.
David Greig’s script employs the ballads’ syllabic freedom and rhyming to tell a similarly lurid tale, where ordinary life gives way to the fearfully supernatural. Greig sets it among a battle, not of balladeers, but of academics. Madeleine Worrall’s sympathetic, humanistic Prudencia finds herself up against the nimble wit and lecherous suggestions of Andy Clark’s Colin Syme – a clash of personalities and opposition of intellect the like of which has not been seen since Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.
Snow-disabled roads and mysterious warnings about a B&B bring ballad and horror film close together, as Prudencia ventures into a fearful existence that takes her who knows where in the company of David McKay’s sinister proprietor. Even this most sympathetic of academics (and Worrall, dressed in elegant protection against the cold, looks the part exactly) receives a shock when she becomes the subject of what she’s been detachedly studying.
After the interval, where the tables around, between and upon which the action takes place, are rearranged, Greig’s script varies from the ballad style for a time. Like the ballads, he mixes the fantastic with the everyday, and his story’s firmly set in a modern landscape, while the music of pub folk nights soaks through the piece.
Though it might have been designed for Ghillie Dhu, the piece has already toured a series of Scottish hostelries. And, if it’s possible to believe in a University of Kelso, it’s also possible to propose a National Theatre if Yorkshire. And when that comes about, it must surely commission Simon Armitage to produce a transplantation of this piece – but ensure Wils Wilson comes back to direct. Her ability to combine the imaginative and site-specific with interest in people lies at Prudencia’s heart.
Cast: Andy Clark, Annie Grace, Alasdair Macrae, David McKay, Madeleine Worrall.
Director: Wils Wilson.
Designer: Georgia McGuinness.
Composer/Musical Director: Alasdair Macrae.
Movement: Janice Parker.