Theatre Review: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

Everyman Palace, Cork

****

This highly inventive comedy by Scottish playwright, David Greig, sees the stage of the theatre transformed into a dimly-lit bar with the small audience seated at tables on it.

It makes for intimacy and a feeling of total immersion in this bizarre show featuring a bunch of mostly pedantic academics who have gathered for a conference on border ballads.

In keeping with the subject matter, the scholars speak most of the time in rhyming couplets which is clever and amusing.

They perform as a singing ensemble before becoming various characters including the testosterone-fuelled philistine Colin who becomes Prudencia Hart’s saviour in the end.

The academics find themselves in a lock-in at a pub as snow falls outside. Cue lots of bad karaoke, with take-offs of James Blunt, Kylie Minogue and Bonnie Tyler.

Prudencia is the odd one out, an uptight conservative woman whose thesis is ‘The Topography of Hell.’ Accused of being middle-class and reactionary, she likes order and is written off as having the mentality of a librarian.

But this dull woman, described as “an emotional voyeur” because of her outsider status and inability to let go, experiences a dream-like journey of self-discovery as, stranded in the snow, she is ‘rescued’ by a seemingly civilised man who plays to her vanity, praising her contribution to the conference.

He takes her to his B&B which turns out to be hell, a hell that has enough books to last for eternity. It is also a hell where love is impossible.

Frank Prendergast gives a fine performance as the devil masquerading as a mannerly host. He has just the right combination of confidence and worldliness as well as hints of steeliness and wells of darkness behind his friendly demeanour.

Aideen Wylde as Prudencia is transformed from a studious and humourless bore to a woman that discovers her sexual power which leads to her liberation.

Directed by Julie Kelleher, this tightly-performed show feels like a larkish night out in the pub with a touch of cabaret.

Runs until Saturday.


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