The National Theatre of Scotland is bringing an immersive experience to Northwest Arkansas. The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, coming to WAC May 5-7, is a snowy midwinter bash of spooky tales and Scottish ballads, riotous partying and metaphysical romance, in a mock cabaret in the newly renovated Starr Theater.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart premiered in Glasgow in 2011 and has toured the U.K. and beyond. Once you enter the Starr Theater, take a seat at the communal table, grab a drink from the bar, and soak up the lilting, stomping sounds of traditional Scottish music.
Things get a little more interesting, and surprising, as the five actor-musicians romp around the room, jump on tables and exhort you to toss fake snow in the air, lead a singalong of "Guantanamera" and a Kylie Minogue pop tune and tell you the story of a high maintenance academic who is snowbound in Scotland. Little does she know what the night holds for her, and in fact, neither does the audience...
According to director Wils Wilson (who created the show with playwright David Greig), Prudencia Hart was inspired by border ballads - long narrative poems and songs from the Scottish hinterlands that border England. These are stories that have been passed down for centuries.
Wilson says of the border ballads, "they deal will all the really good stuff - birth, death, love betrayal and the supernatural." Another inspiration? "The Scottish ceilidh, a traditional night of folk songs, poetry and dancing with an atmosphere of conviviality out of which a story could suddenly spring." This nontraditional ceilidh focuses on Prudencia, a passionate young expert on border ballads and a fish out of water among more cynical colleagues at a conference in Kelso (Scotland, not Washington).
When Prudencia is unable to drive home to Edinburgh, she visits a pub where a "folk night" spirals into a riotous, drunken debacle (and audience participation is certainly encouraged). Shaken, Prudencia takes shelter in a (literally) hellish bed and breakfast run by a rather sinister host.
"The fact that the actors are right in amongst the audience means they have to be absolutely in the moment," says Wils. "When they do that the audience responds and all their imagination, emotion and humor come out too." Sitting in a bar, rather than a theater, with a beer in hand of course, "relaxes people and intrigues them."
The 10-year-old National Theatre of Scotland has performed more than 200 productions. The locations vary: airports, schools, apartment buildings, community halls, ferries and forests. "The most important interaction," says Wils, "is that of the imagination of the audience with the story being told."