Review of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – Devilishly Fun Festive Folklore | Theater
Devils may not seem overly festive, but David Greig’s tale of midwinter magic is a song inspired by Christmas lineup, creating the feeling of being cozily gathered around the fire. Through history and song, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart transports us to a snow-covered Scottish border town, weaving a good old-fashioned thread.
Prudencia is a folklore specialist, specializing in the topography of the underworld. During a conference, she finds herself trapped in her own idea of ââhell, stuck in the snow and surrounded by fashionable post-post-structuralist colleagues. As if things couldn’t be worse, there’s karaoke. Escaping this nightmare, Prudencia runs into the snowy night, where she meets a devilishly sympathetic B&B owner.
Greig’s play, co-created with director Wils Wilson, was designed for commercials rather than theaters. The storytelling at its heart is informal, intimate, and pleasantly rowdy. In Debbie Hannan’s exuberant production, this translates well to the circular stage of the Royal Exchange, drawing audiences in like a circle of revelers gathering to hear a ghost story.
The first half told simply but with humor, except for a tedious tangent featuring a drunken hen. But it is in the captivating and strange second act that this production takes on its full meaning. The previously sparse Max Johns set is transformed, with pub carpets pulled back to reveal Ellie Foreman-Peck’s illustrations of the Underworld. As Prudencia languishes in this hell, the scene turns slowly, as bars of incandescent light form the bars of her glittering cage.
As Prudencia, Joanne Thomson loosens herself beautifully, her stiff limbs slowly loosen as her clothes become disheveled. It’s easy to believe that she spent millennia here, only discovering the messy value of life through immortality. She has an ideal match in the Devil of Paul Tinto, a stressed-out underworld manager who ultimately descends with her into poetic passion.
Interwoven with the folk compositions of Michael John McCarthy, it is a wickedly joyful mixture of music, rejoicing and enchantment. As Hannan and his team prove, the Devil really does have the best tunes.