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National Theatre of Scotland's “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” brings distilled brilliance to Scottsdale

Written by Keridwen Cornelius Category: Performing Arts Issue: April 2016
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In a typical play it’s protocol
to safeguard the audience behind a fourth wall.
They’re impervious observers, aloof, apart.
Much like a lass named Prudencia Hart.
She’s old-fashioned, romantic,
tweed-coated, pedantic.
Likes her Scots ballads folky.
Won’t sing karaoke.
But this play thrusts everyone into the melee
of a riotous, disorderly devil’s ceilidh –
unbuttoning, beguiling, emboldening Pru,
and along with the heroine... you.

Photo by Johan PerssonTold largely in rhyming couplet, this touring National Theatre of Scotland production sloshes together soulful ballads, sing-a-longs, and the supernatural. It’s a full-bodied, whole-hearted, unforgettable experience.

The audience is seated on the stage, which has been transformed into a pub complete with bagpipes and whisky samples. To simulate the setting – a Scottish Borders burg blanketed by the blizzards of 2010 – theatergoers throw torn-up napkin “snow.” As the characters convene for a conference on Scottish ballads, the actors stomp on the tables, hug and kiss audience members, and even use one person as a motorcycle.

If you’re shy, you can avoid the center tables. But then you’d be safe (or at least safer) from the strange undoing that’s meant to unbridle both Prudencia and the playgoers. And total immersion – in the play, in life – is the point.

Prudencia doesn’t understand that at first. A collector of songs and a seeker of beauty, she’s appalled by her fellow academics’ pompousness and debauchery. She spurns the advances of a cocky colleague and refuses to sing Kylie Minogue tunes. She just wants the solace of books and a B&B.

But in the spooky, snow-smothered night, she’s tricked by Satan and snatched into hell. There she finally learns to let go.

Photo by Johan PerssonJessica Hardwick’s Prudencia is heartbreaking as she surrenders to the poetry and pandemonium of love and life. All the actor-musicians are so wonderfully natural (even when they’re supernatural) you completely fall under their spell.

The Scots excel at distilling, whether it’s whisky or wisdom. And though the play has plenty of bawdy and witty hilarity, it’s the profound moments of pure poetry that – as Kylie Minogue might say – you just can’t get out of your head.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Through April 24
scottsdaleperformingarts.org