“It’s difficult to know where to start.~ The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
With the strange undoing of Prudencia Hart.”
Never were words so true. I want to blast out how much I loved this play, but there are so many things I liked about it that I’m actually having a hard time sorting out all my notes into something readable that isn’t just “This, and this, and this thing I loved too!” But I guess the best place to start is with what the story is actually about.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is a play by David Greig, that combines elements of Scottish ballads, folklore, musicals, and a bit of immersive theatre. The story follows Prudencia Hart, a prim and slightly stuffy woman with a love for folk ballads and, oddly enough, the topography of hell. After a humiliating speech at a folk conference, she and her collegue Colin Syme (who Prudencia is both fond and not so fond of) head out to find a B&B and listen to a folk music night at a bar. When the night turns a little too wild for Prudencia, with a debauched hen party and karaoke abound, she leaves the bar for the cold winter night to find her own way to a B&B. After a chance meeting with a ghostly woman in the snow, she finally meets up with the B&B’s owner named Nick, only to find out he’s not at all what he seems. Soon she’s trapped for millennia in a library that seems like heaven…at first. Prudencia finds herself facing her undoing and a blossoming romance with her devilish captor in her own journey of self-discovery.
Cast & Characters
(Note: this is the current cast as of 2023)
The cast here is absolutely wonderful and deserves a lot of credit for making this play as beautiful as it is. The language of the book/script is beautiful, but without the cast’s amazing acting, it just wouldn’t have the same impact. Each cast member is basically a triple threat, acting in both main and ensemble parts, dancing, singing, playing instruments, and getting on tabletops (how they aren’t passed out on the popcorn and torn napkin ridden floor at the end of each show I’ll never know).
Charlene Boyd plays Prudencia Hart beautifully and emotionally. This is the first play that I’ve been to where the cast is actually in the audience and it’s a whole other level to be able to look at an actors eyes and facial expressions up close and personal and Boyd utilizes this wonderfully. Every time her expression changed to pained or humiliated or broken, I felt it down to my core.
The audience was cracking up multiple times with Ewan Black’s portrayal of Colin Syme (in the best way, I promise). He makes Colin such a lovable bastard that you can understand Prudence’s annoyance with him not taking her passion and career as seriously as she does, but at the same time, you’d love to just have a drink and party with him. He also doubles as another form of the devil, usually wearing a coat of many eyes like the creepy biblically accurate angels.
Gavin Jon Wright delivers a commanding and sympathetic performance as the fallen angel, Nick (aka the Devil). Within the span of about an hour, he portrays a range of emotions, from commanding and unsure to romantic, terrifying, and heart-breaking. The chemistry between him and Boyd’s Prudencia felt raw and heart-wrenching as star-crossed lovers, with the both of them masterfully playing to the romantic tension between their characters. He also delivered one of the more slightly terrifying moments of the play, making me jump out of my seat a bit since he was directly in front of me when he did it (I love being scared, but I jump at anything startling).
Natali McCleary, who played mostly as part of the ensemble, but also as the haunting character of a ghostly woman that I don’t want to give too much away about, was amazing as well. Her voice is nearly ethereal, filling the room a sense of melancholy that was both beautiful and haunting as the ghost, or with love and longing during a particularly amazing dance number between Nick and Prudencia (one of the songs I’d love to have a soundtrack recording to).
And Charlie West was a dynamic member of the ensemble, with a range of musical talents. Not only did he play several instruments, including the guitar and fiddle/violin, but he had an awesome stage presence. He had a versatility and ability to embody multiple characters, instrument players, and singing styles.
What I Loved
I loved so many aspected about this play (having already fawned over the cast), but I think my favorite moments came with the romance between Prudencia and Nick, the Devil.
The Devil is portrayed as a more sympathetic and lonely character here, saying he has trouble sleeping and wants company. He laments about the toll that being evil constantly takes on him, and how he wishes he could do something else. However, he believes that even if he did, it would eventually turn evil again because, with eternity before him, everything ends up that way. After some years, they grow into a routine, then a desperation.
“She falls through years.~ The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Years and years…
She is caught.”
Prudencia is beginning her undoing and the Devil doesn’t know exactly what to do with her after a while, becoming almost afraid of being near her for fear of his growing romantic attachment. He stays in his bodily form longer and longer, not wanting to be away from her and wanting to be far away at the same time, barely eating, never sleeping to make sure she doesn’t escape. It’s only when he “let(’s) go of prose” and allows himself to be given into the more poetic form of their love that he’s able to fully let go and be with her.
With Prudencia, she almost already had this love or attachment. Her life was dedicated to her love of Scottish border ballads, folk, and particularly the study of hell and the Devil. This emulates later in her undoing, as she begins learning more about herself and what her ballads actually mean. Through this she’s able to break through the devil’s walls and make him admit to what he was too afraid of actually having…her.
One of my absolute favorite moments in the play is a magically executed dance and seduction number between Prudencia and the two forms of the Devil. I was captivated throughout the entire scene, and it felt like it lasted forever in the best possible way. To quote the play:
“She moves to him.~ The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
They fall through the years.
Through years and years.
They fall into one.
They are undone.
She is caught.”
Overall, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is a must-see play that combines elements of Scottish border ballads, folk music, and immersive theatre. The actors are all amazing, and the use of whatever smallish space they come across is used effectively. The story is beautiful, both the poetry and the prose. Basically, the only complaint I have is that I didn’t get a second ticket to see it another night.
If you saw or read The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, I’d love to read your thoughts below in the comments!
Where To See The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Currently, the show is heading to the McKittrick Hotel in New York, NY. You can visit the official website for more information and links to tickets.
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