Monday, January 28, 2013

PuSh 2013: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

When I first got a glimpse of the PuSh Festival line-up for this year I knew that there was one show I wanted to see without a doubt. That show is The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. My grandmother was a fiery Scot so you put me in a pub with traditional folk music and a beer in my hand and I'll pretty much be in heaven.

In my twenties I lived in the UK for a year - and spent some of that time in Scotland - so I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to experience a local pub night first hand; but unfortunately, and much to my dismay, we don't really have real pubs here in Vancouver. We have trendy pubs.

(Photo Courtesy of PuSh Festival. Photographer: Drew Farrell)

And, from the sound of the The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, the creators of this production are hoping to give us, the audience, an experience like you might have at a real local pub in the Scottish Borders. Lucky me, Alastair Macrae, the Musical Director and a performer in Pru (as they refer to it), took a few minutes to answer a few questions about the show to get you all as excited about it as I am:

1. What should an audience member expect when experiencing The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart? 

Ideally an audience should come to Pru free from expectation other than an idea that the show will be Scottish. In whatever interpretation of that word they want. 

It may be true to say, however, that their idea of 'Scottish' may be radically altered by the end of the night. 

2. Where did the inspiration come for this project?

David Greig wanted to do a piece that had, as it's springboard, the Border Ballads (Google Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border) and which would be as much fun as a kid's birthday party but for grown-ups. 

To that end, myself (as MD), Wils Wilson (director) and David spent a weekend in Kelso. We attended the folk night in the local pub and were visited by various Border historians and scholars, it was cold and snowy and over the course of the weekend we realised that a kids party for grown-ups is a lock-in in the pub A lot of the show came from that weekend including the character of Prudencia who is a fictional amalgamation of lots of elements of different experts we met. 

[Google: "A lock-in is when a pub owner lets drinkers stay in the pub after the legal closing time: the theory is that once the doors are locked, it becomes a private party rather than a pub. Patrons may put money behind the bar before official closing time, and redeem their drinks during the lock-in so no drinks are technically sold after closing time"]


3. What was the creation process like and have you been working on this as a team from the start? Or did it start with one person – the playwright or the director – and then bringing the rest of the team on later?

The process was about as much chaotic fun as you can have in a rehearsal room with iced-tea instead of beer. 

As far as the original team goes, we've had two actors go on to do other things but the majority of the team were in from the first day of rehearsal. 

As I said above, the original idea came from Wils and David and I, was brought on at the earliest discussions. 

The audition process was strange because we didn't have a script until rehearsal day one (and then it was only 12 pages) so we were looking for a team who had the skills to do this kind of unconventional work. We did group auditions involving music, singing and storytelling, improvised song and the like but the most important element was the group creativity. 

Having assembled the mob we started our 4 weeks of rehearsal with the first 12 pages and a wall of post-it notes with moments that we wanted to see in the show; Pru and the devil watch tv, big-breasted women fall out of the toilets spewing etc. 

David was in the room with us the whole time and watched and wrote and distracted us with anecdotes and every few days would come up with a new section of script which we would then work through, trying to use as many 'found' objects as possible to make a kind of 'poor theatre'. 

Most of the 2nd act was more straight devising; improvising, recording, re-doing honing ideas etc, and then all we had to do was stick it all together. 

We got the final script 3 days before the first show. 

Hilarious. 

4. Music is obviously integral to this project? How much was created for this production specifically? How much is from existing songs?

The canon of Scottish balladry is expansive and mercurial and stretches as far as you want to look. 

With that amount of source material it is all too easy to overwhelm an audience and turn a show into a lecture. This is something we wanted to avoid. 

There are quite a few ballads and folk songs in the piece (which is itself a ballad) mostly in the form of a pub session, but to force old beautiful songs on top of another story would be like playing Run DMC and Eminem at the same time. A very bad mash-up. This is also something we wanted to avoid.

There's a fairly continuous soundtrack throughout the piece, some of it ancient and some composed by myself (with the great help of the band and a loop- station) and some composed by Kathy Denis and made famous by Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue. So the audience are carried on a musical journey hopefully seeing the similarities these genres have and understanding their relevance to a 21st century Scottish experience. This is something we wish to include. 

5. Finish this sentence: At the end of the evening I would like the audience to leave the WISE Hall feeling…

A little undone by a great night in the pub and that the hangover's definitely in the post. 


"A kid's birthday party but for grown ups": I'm pretty sure not much more is needed to be said. I couldn't be more excited for this show if I tried.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart plays at the WISE hall opening Tuesday, January 29th and running until Saturday, February 2nd. This National Theatre of Scotland production is presented by The PuSH International Performing Arts Festival and The Cultch. Tickets at The Cultch box office or click here.

But, a little birdie may have told me that tickets are close to selling out if they haven't already, so if you don't want to miss out on a show that critics have called "rambunctiously life-affirming and touchingly beautiful" (The Herald) then may I suggest you get your tickets now.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer


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