THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 2nd July, 2019
First produced by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2011 as a piece of pub theatre, David Grieg’s engaging play gets a production on a grander scale at the New Vic. It begins as a meeting of academics at a conference about folk ballads and, as everyone speaks in rhyming couplets, there is a heightened sense to the narrative. We meet our heroine, the bookish, strait-laced Prudencia (Suni La) fighting her corner against pretentious naysayers and revisionists. We meet Colin (Matthew McVarish) blokey and annoying. We meet a host of characters as the ensemble of four populate the increasingly rowdy and drunken conference. It’s funny stuff and the humour is engendered and enhanced by the writing. The rhymes are sophisticated and witty; director Anna Marsland is at pains to retain the patterns of naturalistic speech without glossing over the rhymes. Grieg makes great use of enjambment and assonance and other things I barely remember from A Level English Lit.
Prudencia sets out in the snow to find a B&B… An encounter with a character from her beloved ballads changes things forever. ‘Nick’ (David Fairs) is all the more sinister because of his normalcy. He is in fact the Devil, come to take Prudencia to Hell.
It’s a play of two halves. After the verse of the first half, the second is mainly in prose. It gets a bit meta as Prudencia tries to use verse to assert power and make her escape.
Suni La makes Prudencia an appealing figure, who loosens up as the action unfolds. For her, Hell is a transformative experience. David Fairs is superb as the satanic Nick, funny, charming and formidable – scary at times. Matthew McVarish is great fun as the drunken Colin, the unwitting hero, and there is sterling support from Eleanor House as a moustachioed professor and Alice Blundell as a plaintive Woman. All the cast play musical instruments and sing, keeping the pub flavour of the entertainment going.
E. M. Parry’s design has books suspended like bunting – the books are integral to the storytelling, with illuminated pop-up versions displaying locations. Marsland uses books as stepping-stones to help Prudencia along her journey, which is symbolic as well as visually satisfying. Daniella Beattie’s lighting and charming projections enhance the storytelling nature of the piece. All levels of the auditorium are put to use, so while we don’t get the intimacy of a pub theatre, we are surrounded by the action as well as being part of it.
Irresistibly engaging, beautifully presented, and ultimately life-affirming, this unusual yet accessible play is a delight from start to finish. And who doesn’t enjoy a bit of Kylie? (And no, it’s not Better The Devil You Know)
Suni La as Prudencia Hart (Photo: Andrew Billington)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice Blundell, Anna Marsland, Daniella Beattie, David Fairs, David Grieg, E M Parry, Eleanor House, Matthew McVarish, National Theatre of Scotland, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, review, Suni La, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart | posted in Review, Theatre Review
REBUS: LONG SHADOWS
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th September, 2018
The character of John Rebus is familiar to many from the novels of Ian Rankin and their television adaptations. Here, he is brought to life by Charles Lawson (formerly Jim Macdonald off of Coronation Street) in this first-ever stage version, adapted by Rona Munro. Lawson is a compelling, dishevelled presence, a sleeping lion of a man whose exterior belies the power he retains. In retirement, he has lost none of the faculties that made him a good detective, and is still able to resort to, shall we call it ‘active persuasion’ to get the information he seeks.
The arrival of the daughter of a long-ago murder victim brings Rebus out of his Edinburgh flat and on the hunt for a resolution to the cold case. Meanwhile, his mentee Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke (the mighty Cathy Tyson) is keen to get a serial rapist/murderer banged up. Suddenly, Rebus is juggling two investigations, and the involvement of nasty piece of work crime lord ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty brings to light a dark secret from the former detective’s past…
It’s an intriguing if wordy tale, heavy on the exposition but played with conviction so it never falls short of gripping – and there are more laughs in it than you might expect. Director Robin Lefevre maintains a naturalistic if intense style from his small but excellent cast, played against Ti Green’s stylised set – a sweeping staircase and foreboding walls that would not be out of place in an opera house. Garth McConaghie’s original music is moody and urgent, befitting the thriller aspects of the story, and his sound design is disquieting. The crimes are kept off-stage but are evoked by the dramatic device of having a couple of victims (Dani Heron and Eleanor House) appearing to haunt and taunt Rebus with his failure to secure a conviction and get them the justice they deserve.
Lawson and Tyson make an abrasive double act – we sense the mutual respect beneath the barbs and the jibes – but it is the scenes between Lawson and Big Ger (John Stahl) that make all the backstory worthwhile. Stahl is menacingly charismatic, contrasting with Lawson’s comparatively passive presence, as Rebus apparently effortlessly manages the situation… There is strong support from Neil McKinven in a couple of roles, and Eleanor House as Heather, the young femme fatale of the piece.
The waters are muddied. This is no black-and-white crime story. The morality is as murky as an Edinburgh fog. One thing is unequivocal: Tyson yearns for a world in which men never attack women. Looking at the current state of American politics, that world seems a long way off.
A stylish, involving piece, slickly presented and expertly played. I would not be averse to seeing further Rebus stories staged in this way.
Cathy Tyson and Charles Lawson (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Cathy Tyson, Charles Lawson, Dani Heron, Eleanor House, Garth McConaghie, Ian Rankin, John Stahl, Neil McKinven, Rebus: Long Shadows, Robin Lefevre, Rona Munro, Ti Green | posted in Review, Theatre Review