As children, we knew how to listen with rapt attention when our parents and teachers read us tales of magic and mystery, but most of us have forgotten the joy of sitting down to hear a well-told story.
This week, The National Theatre of Scotland brings us a marvelous adventure that recaptures the magic of the oral tradition: “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.”
Set in Scotland in 2010 in the midst of the coldest winter since people began recording the misery of Scottish weather, an ambitious academic is stuck in a blizzard in a tiny border town on the night of the winter solstice. A scholar of Scottish folk ballads, Prudencia (Melody Grove) suddenly finds herself caught up in a mystical narrative of her own. And we get to come along for the ride.
Transforming the stage of Bass Concert Hall into a local pub, the production compels the use of our imaginations; a kazoo becomes the sound of a motorbike and dinner napkins morph into a swirling snowstorm.
The ensemble of five talented actors does it all: they narrate the tale, provide musical accompaniment, and even pose as the occasional prop as they wander amongst the audience, enveloping us in the world of the story.
Poking fun at the erudition of academia while telling a story of love and heroism, the show is smart and charming. We get to laugh at the squabbles of literary scholars as well as delight in a group of rural Scotsman singing karaoke Katy Perry. But we are also treated to some truly beautiful and mournful Scottish music, as the cast members are not only adept storytellers but skilled musicians as well. Annie Grace’s gorgeous voice is sure to give you goose-bumps.
Written in playful verse, the show calls attention to language and the oral tradition of storytelling. Layered with Scottish accents, the metered words invite us to listen carefully, seeking out the rhymes and delighting in their completion.
This marvelous play is one of those lovely pieces of theater that’s simultaneously funny and sad and a little bit magical.
We’re very fortunate that Texas Performing Arts has brought the production to town, and I highly recommend you see it while it’s here.