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A CurtainUp London The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

"Or on one occasion a journey of two whole days —
To photograph the guitar that played Purple Haze —
It came in a case complete with plectrum —
Nowadays wed say Mr Hart was autistic spectrum
But back then he was just odd.
And — whatever he was — whatever his spectra —
Prudencias complex was Electra."
— Narrator
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Melody Grove as Prudencia and Paul McCole as Colin (Photo: Johan Persson)
On one of the hottest nights of the English summer for a decade, we are transported by the National Theatre of Scotland to a snowbound night in the Scottish Borders. OK, so to simulate snow we have to tear up paper napkins and hurl the white pieces into the air, but in this pub like atmosphere, there is plenty of goodwill for creative story telling. There is admiration for David Greig's tale of academic collectors of Scottish folk ballads meeting the dark side, the narrative in rhyming couplets and huge respect for anyone who can rhyme guitar plectrum with autism spectrum!

A mere five actors, singers and musicians take on all the roles, singing, playing and giving a physical performance to enliven the proceedings to hectic speed. The audience sit in the bar, in this case, the home of the London Welsh, in Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, and the actors mingle with the paying guests. The action is fast and the Scots accents take a minute to get accustomed to, but as they say, the best English is spoken in Scotland.

Wide eyed Melody Grove plays the bluestocking Dr Prudencia Hart with Paul McCole as her nemesis Colin Syme, who thinks modern folk studies should encompass the X Factor , flash mobs, Kylie and football chants. They meet at a conference in Kelso, Colin having overtaken Prudencia on his motorbike, white scarf flying courtesy two helpers. Singer Annie Grace plays, amongst other parts, Siolaigha (said Sheila) Smith, an MA student from Perth who brings sexual politics into the debate on Border Ballads. After going head to head at the conference, Colin and Prudencia find themselves stranded by the snow at a pub advertising Kelso Folk Club Folk Night. With tongue in cheek wit, the country pub descends into a potential Straw Dogs type scenario cum cocaine fuelled orgy from which Prudencia flees. But has she leapt out of the frying pan into the fire as she meets the welcoming stranger (Davie McKay)? What follows is the stuff of folk ballads from the country that brought us Tam OShanter.

David Greigs's witty text is clever and insightful, lifting the show above the merely silly and the energy of the performances allow it to rattle along at a great pace. The band provides jigs and folk songs on fiddles and pipes and the music is integrated into the plot. There is word play and physical interpretation everywhere you look in this very entertaining evening. It is only scheduled in London for another three weeks and sold out in Peckham as word of mouth has said how “must see” this show was in Glasgow and at the Edinburgh Festival, that we have to hope for an extension.

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The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Written by David Greig
Directed by Wils Wilson

Starring: Annie Grace, Melody Grove, Alasdair Macrae, Paul McCole, David McKay
Design: Georgia McGuinness
Composer and Musical Director: Alasdair Macrae
Movement Director: Janice Parker
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking at the London Welsh Centre to 3rd August 2013
Booking at the Bussy Building Peckham 5th to 9th August 2013
A production from the National Theatre of Scotland
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th July 2013 performance at The London Welsh Centre 157 Grays Inn Road London WC1X 8UE (Tube: Kings Cross and a 15 minute walk)

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