The Austin Chronicle

'The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart'

The second time's the charm for the National Theatre of Scotland's devilishly charming play in Austin

By Robert Faires, February 7, 2014, Arts

Was it not a Scotsman who warned us, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men,/Gang aft agley"?

No doubt the National Theatre of Scotland felt a little of the sting of Robbie Burns' phrase when the carefully laid plans that the company had made with Texas Performing Arts to share its The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart with Austin audiences a year ago had to be abandoned after just one performance. The show, which takes place in a pub with a quintet of musicians performing border ballads and unspooling the story of a buttoned-up academic who dances with the devil on a midwinter solstice night, creates the ambience of a pub, with a bar dispensing pints and wine and the audience seated at tables with bowls of beer nuts, and when possible, the company likes to perform it in a real bar. TPA had arranged for one for the show's weeklong run here, but on opening night, nonstop construction noise near the site interfered so badly with the performance that the run was aborted.

However, given the National Theatre of Scotland's successes here with its touring productions of Black Watch and Long Gone Lonesome, TPA Director Kathy Panoff was not about to give up on the show. Prudencia Hart was rebooked for the 2013-14 season, and to ensure that it would encounter no unexpected presentation issues, TPA is returning to the model it used for Long Gone Lonesome, which was also set in a bar, and creating the play's pub on the Bass Concert Hall stage. The five performers will weave among the tables as they transport us to Scotland on a frigid winter's night, placing us in the Kelso pub where poor Prudencia, trapped by a blizzard, finds the veils between our world and the underworld opening and the Devil leading his own ceilidh. Writer David Greig, composer Alasdair Macrae, and director Wils Wilson heard a tale very like it when they took a research trip to Kelso and ended up "locked in" at a pub by a raging snowstorm. An old man reportedly spun the tale of another group of people who'd come looking for songs and one of them, a woman, had never been seen again.

If the notion of spirited ballads and a spooky story to while away a winter evening strikes your fancy, you'd best buy your tickets now. Now that TPA and its Scottish friends have their act back together, you wouldn't want your best-laid schemes going agley.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart runs Feb. 11-15, Tuesday-Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 2 & 8pm, at Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, UT campus. For more information, call 512/477-6060 or visit

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