Folk traditions – especially verse, dance and music – can sometimes seem like a fly caught in amber, museum pieces rather than something alive and evolving. That’s the argument at the heart of David Greig’s Borders-set musical play currently being toured to arts and community centres in East Anglia. There are pefomances in more conventional theatre settings – such as the Quay Theatre in Sudbury (where I saw it) – but Hal Chambers’ production really needs a more informal, in-the-round ambiance.
A cast of four, all of whom sing and play a variety of instruments very well, take all the parts. Prudencia herself (Hannah Howie) is a somewhat up-tight academic concerned to keep Border minstrelsy in its historical place; Walter Scott is her guide for this and in fact a great deal of the dialogue is couched in his metrical narrative rhythmns. Her opposite in attitude is Colin (Robin Hemmings) with his laid-back personality and modernising mission.
Then there’s Nick (Simon Donaldson). Yes, you guessed right – He’s more than just a collector of old books and rare artefacts. Haunting the transition between this world and something more winter-solstice sinister is Elspeth Turner, whose child-puppet sequence is truly eerie. Chambers is a puppet specialist, and it shows superbly here.
Eastern Angles is to congratulated on looking outside its home territory for some of its productions. However, not everything works out of its original territory (Holy Mackerel! a year or so ago is one instance). I found much of the accented dialogue difficult to follow; again, this may partly be due to the venue. Designer Bek Palmer aided by musical director and puppeteer Arran Glass conjure up lecture halls, snow-dredged exteriors, sessions in wayside pubs and book-lined libraries as though by magic.
Three and a half-star rating.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart tours until 27 May.