Being handed a shot of whiskey is generally a good start to an evening, but it got even better when I entered Woolfe Street Playhouse last night to the sounds of a Scottish band singing. It was the cast of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart and it signaled to the audience that this wouldn’t be an average night at the theater.
Seated at tiny assigned cocktail tables, the cast immediately began introducing themselves to the audience and directed us to tear up a pile of napkins into snow. “We’ll tell you when to throw them,” said Peter Hannah in a thick brogue. Which reminds me: If you have trouble deciphering Scottish accents, this show is going to be a challenge for you. The cast is straight from the National Theatre of Scotland and at times understanding them is like trying to listen to Belle and Sebastian through headphones made of jelly. That said, if you can allow your ears to adjust, the lyrical payoff is something to behold. Prudencia Hart is told entirely in rhyme, and playwright David Greig’s writing is like Shakespeare for millenials. Which is good since the storyline is, well, pretty out there.
Professor Prudencia Hart gets trapped at a pub in the tiny town of Kelso after a blizzard engulfs her car while traveling to a folklore conference. Not surprisingly, the seriously nerdy Prudencia is a stick in the mud and cannot bring herself to find fun in the pub’s karaoke night. Eager to escape the drunken song-fest, she stumbles into the snowstorm to find her B&B and it’s then that she runs into the devil himself.
Now I don’t want to give it all away. But what I will tell you is that through song, pseudo dance numbers, and plenty of cracking wit, Prudencia Hart upends any recent experience you’ve likely had at the theater. The cast uses the entire Woolfe Street space, be it sitting on the bar in the back or cat crawling across tables, to surround the audience. And that’s just when they’re talking. When the team of five pick up their instruments — a banjo, accordion, and kazoo among them — the room is transported to a misty moor. I could have sat and listened to them sing all night. It’s Prudencia’s transformation from buttoned up prud to a saucy minx telling her own story that makes the show a celebration of life.