The National Theatre of Scotland Brings ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart’ to Santa Monica’s Broad Stage

Patch spoke with director Wils Wilson about the production as the company settles in for a three-week run of supernatural storytelling, music and theatre.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Credit: Drew Ferrell
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. Credit: Drew Ferrell

The National Theatre of Scotland is in Santa Monica for three weeks to perform its critically acclaimed production of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at the Broad Stage’s Edye Second Space.

The space has been turned into a modern-day pub for David Greig’s whip-smart, irreverent play that has received acclaim around the world since its 2011 Edinburgh Festival debut.  

Inspired by Border Ballads, Robert Burns, and the poems of Robert Service, the National Theatre of Scotland unleashes its company of rambunctious actors and musicians to transport audiences to a cozy bar in the Scottish Borders.

Audience members will be served beer, wine and light food as the production unfolds around them.

“This is more than a show,” said Broad Stage Director Dale Franzen. “It feels like a raucous night out with friends and The Edye Second Space is the perfect venue for it.”

The story centers on the main character Prudencia Hart, and is staged with an interactive and inventive sense of fun. An uptight academic, Prudencia sets off to attend a conference in Kelso, in the Scottish Borders. As the snow begins to fall, little does she know who or what awaits her there. Delivered in a riotous romp of rhyming couplets, devilish encounters and wild karaoke – Prudencia’s dream-like journey of self-discovery unfolds among and around the audience.

The play was conceived by its director, Wils Wilson as a witty, bacchanalian night out with friends but it also offers great musical swagger and wild poetic heart.

Patch caught up with Wilson ahead of opening night tonight, to learn a little more about the production and what audiences can expect.

Santa Monica Patch: The production notes say the play is inspired by Border Ballads, Robert Burns and the poems of Robert Service, all very Scottish traditions. Does that translate to an American Audience?

Wils Wilson:  We’ve done [the show] in America a few times. The first time we came, we wondered if things would be lost in translation. But [Prudencia Hart] is really a folk tradition of epic ballad form, so you’re talking about stories that are very dramatic and deal with things like love and the supernatural and a sense of adventure – also linked with folk music.  I think every place has some sort of tradition of people gathering and telling stories. [The show] is a very engaging and direct kind of evening. There’s no sense of any need to know.

Patch: How did you come up with name Prudencia Hart?

Wilson: When David Grieg (the writer) and I were doing research we met this wonderful academic whose name was Valentina Bold. She told us how to sing a ballad and how you have to know who you’re singing it to, and [the show] was inspired by this real ballad collector who happened to have this incredibly interesting name. Prudencia is a character who is very much caught between being passionate and having a big heart but also being very very prudent. We went through a lot of names, though. We thought about Constance. But [Prudencia] was just right for her.

Patch: Without giving away the plot, what makes Prudencia ‘strange’ and how is she ‘undone’?

Wilson: When you’re undone by something that is beyond words or beyond your understanding of who you are you’re pushed to a place where all your usual armor and prudence are swept away. The idea of being undone is something terrible and something beautiful. [Prudencia] goes through a journey and it’s the thing she fears the most and wants the most. It’s a strange journey – it all happens on Midwinter’s Night in the borders of Scotland. It’s the night where the borders between the supernatural world and this world are breached. Her life becomes a ballad for that night.

Patch: How important is the music in your production and what type of audience does the show appeal to?

Wilson: The music is really important. There’s a lot of music throughout and it draws people in. People who go the theatre a lot love this piece because the company is amazing. But those who [aren’t regular theatergoers] love it because it disobeys the conventions of theatre. It’s quite cheeky in a way.  We really love it when we get a real cross section of people.  Come and have a look, you also get a free whiskey!

Patch: What do you want audiences to come away with after seeing the show?

Wilson:  We’re really interested in giving our audiences a good night out. It’s something that you can bring your whole self to. It’s not a formal atmosphere and we hope our audience engages directly. We want them to feel they’ve been taken on a memorable journey that is out of their ordinary experience.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart runs for 26 performances between January 15 and February 9, 2014.  Performances are at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinee shows on the weekends.

The Broad Stage: 1310 11tStreet, Santa Monica CA 90401. Parking is free. Ticket prices range from $35-$85. For tickets and more information contact 310-434-3200 or visit: http://thebroadstage.com/prudencia



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