THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HARTEastern Angles at the Public Hall, Witham
Eastern Angles are venturing further afield again. Last year's Cornish excursion was something of a disappointment, but this Scottish piece is a much more satisfying entertainment.
It has all the elements of an Eastern Angles production: a small company of actor-musicians, and a story firmly rooted in the region. Which in this case is the Scottish borders. A Kelso pub hosts a folk night, with four musicians – fiddles and guitars – warming us up with Rabbie Burns. Then the lights go down, and the story-telling starts, with the four performers changing character and swapping rhyming couplets, with some deliciously ingenious rhymes. The ballad form is central here. Our heroine [Hanna Howie] is an academic, specialising in “folk studies” and “the topography of Hell” - not so much Dante as Dennis Wheatley.
There's fun to be had as she speaks at a pretentious conference. Her nemesis, Colin [Robin Hemmings] first appears on his motor-bike, brilliantly brought to life with lights, a helmet and a noisy kazoo. Then it's off to the pub, the Devil's ceilidh, a snow-bound lock-in on Midwinter Eve, an encounter with a woman [Elspeth Turner] and her children under a sodium street-lamp, and Prudencia's first meeting with Nick [Simon Donaldson] from Goodman's Field, who has a warm fire waiting for her …
After a cliff-hanging interval the darker second half is mostly a two hander, set in Nick's B&B, where Prudencia spends an eternity cataloguing his library and watching the weeds grow in the Asda car park outside. The other two actors providing the atmospheric underscore.
There is a happy ending, though; redemption in rhyme, love requited, the damsel rescued by Colin, who's been holding a torch for her all along.
David Greig's piece is certainly strange, veering from satire to suspense to sentiment. Despite the occasional longueur – the grotesque karaoke - Hal Chambers' direction keeps us enthralled: the puppet children, the dream dance, the many mutations of tug-of-war Prudencia.
The original National Theatre of Scotland production was designed to be performed in pubs. The folk club intimacy was sometimes hard to re-create in the Public Hall, despite their excellent bar and some cabaret-style tables. But the music is excellent - not just folk, but Katy Perry for the karaoke, the Devil's Kylie [“Can't Get You Out Of My Head”] for the finale.
The production tours round the region's village halls until the end of May; if I could choose, I'd probably plump for Isaac's on the Quay back in Ipswich, a genuine music venue with just the right ambience.
production photograph by Mike Kwasniak