The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart gives a voice to the Borders

The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart gives a voice to the Borders

The National Theatre of Scotland focuses on traditional Scottish pieces this season

The National Theatre of Scotland’s just-announced season feels even more particularly Scottish than usual this year, with a number of pieces tapping into old traditions. Alongside the exciting looking revivals of classics like Knives in Hens and Men Should Weep, though, it’s great to see some entirely new pieces of writing – even if, as is the case with The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, they draw on some very old source material indeed.

‘There’s so much weird richness in the Border ballads,’ says director Wils Wilson, who has created the piece collaboratively with writer David Greig and musical director Alasdair McCrae, after the three had a strange experience in a pub in Kelso. ‘So much life and death, so many stories. And they’re relatively unknown nowadays.’

With this piece, which tells a story they claim was told to them in that pub about young Prudencia Hart, who goes in search of the song of undoing, which she doesn’t realise belongs to the devil, the creative team have decided to create an experience reminiscent of the traditional, song and storytelling-based, ceilidh. Although it opens in the Tron Theatre’s Victoria Bar, the susbsequent tour venues are all traditional pubs.

‘The audience will come in to a traditional pub, with musicians playing in the corner and a fire going, they’ll get their drinks, have a chat, and the story will evolve from there,’ says Wilson. ‘I think people will be surprised at just how theatrical the piece is, given the limitations of our setting.’

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 9 & Thu 10 Feb, then touring


1. David Kilpatrick28 Jan 2011, 9:06pm Report

The Southern Reporter has a story saying the idea came from a visit to The Cobbles Inn and Kelso Folk Club's Friday night sessions. Hmmm. There are no old men there (apparently responsible for the story...) - I don't think a single member is over 70! And we don't get song collectors, apart from the bloke from Berwick who wanted to make recordings but never turned up after I explained there really were no old songs surviving that no-one had discovered.

Slightly more dispiriting is the lack of storytelling (try that in a busy, popular, noisy pub!) or Border balladry (ditto). Plenty of jigs and reels, plenty of Jacobite anthems and Irish chorus songs, more than a few contemporary covers, a bit of African drumming, a few pipe tunes. All welcome!

But the play sounds like a rather idealised version if it's really true that our wee session helped inspire it. Kelso Folk Club is a victim of the popularity of the session - we rarely start before 10pm because we run an early evening open mic from 7.30 at the town's ACE community centre, and we tend to push the 1am closing time to its limit. It's not unusual for 15-20 musicians and singers to arrive every week - and we run all year round.

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