When reviewing, sobriety is rather mandatory. Critics ought to arrive fresh and alert, the better to catch every nuance of story and staging. (Even at Cats, although I would gladly have accepted 10 milligrams of morphine before curtain.) So it was with profound ambivalence that I gulped down the whiskey offered me at the immersive, site-specific The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. I clutched several drink tickets, and two friendly fellows were lining up free shots along the bar. It would have been rude to refuse such a simple kindness.
Co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland (Black Watch) and written in cheeky rhyming couplets by David Greig, Prudencia Hart is perfectly enjoyable even without a chest-warming, peaty buzz. Director Wils Wilson stages this satiric fable inside an ad hoc Scottish pub in the Heath, normally the bar and music venue for the McKittrick Hotel (which also houses the long-running Sleep No More). The title character is a prickly academic (Melody Grove), whose specialty is folkloric literature (her dissertation is titled “The Topography Of Hell In Scottish Balladry”). At an academic conference, she trades barbs with her rival, cocksure and flashy Colin Syme (Paul McCole). Following a surreal bacchanal in a pub and a blizzard, Prudencia falls under the spell of a sinister stranger (Peter Hannah) who owns a vast library that enchants our learned heroine.
A witty send-up of literary theory and rom-coms that morphs into a real (and rather scary) mini-epic of damnation and obsession, Prudencia Hart keeps a fine balance between supernatural shocks and Fringe-like silliness. Wilson’s scrappy troupe tears around the room, pulling off audience-interactive shenanigans with adorable aplomb. They sing, they dance, and they risk life and limb on top of cluttered tables for our amusement. Someone buy those Scottish kids a round.
The Heath (Off Broadway). By David Greig. Directed by Wils Wilson. With Annie Grace, Melody Grove, Peter Hannah, Paul McCole and Alasdair Macrae. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. Through Feb 28. Click here for full ticket and venue information.