THE idea started on a winter’s night in a snow-bound Kelso pub and now The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart returns to the Borders town where it was born.
The National Theatre of Scotland production received awards and huge plaudits when performed at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, and one of its actors, Andy Clark formerly of BBC Scotland soap River City, put its success down to its down-to-earth setting.
Andy, whose father hails from Melrose, told TheSouthern: “It is not a theatre set up, it is in a pub. The audience get a free drink and sandwich at half time, there are actors running in among the audience, music being played and the play has a heart to it.
“Some people are apprehensive about going to the theatre but in the pub you are more relaxed and it is perhaps less intimidating.Maybe that is the future, bringing the show to the audience.”
The NTS sent writer David Greig, director Wils Wilson and composer Alasdair Macrae to Kelso for the weekend during the freezing winter of two years ago, to research the Border Ballads for a new piece of theatre.
An enjoyable evening ended with a “lock in” for those still drinking in the bar, including an old man who told a story about another group of people who had come to look for songs a few years back and how one, a woman, had never been seen again.
It was a story of music and the devil, which he said was “110 per cent true” and proved the inspiration for The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart – an evening of supernatural storytelling, music and theatre inspired by the Border Ballads, Robert Burns and the poems of Robert Service.
The show toured Scotland in February 2011, including Selkirk’s County Hotel, and following its Fringe appearance, picked up a Critics’ Award for Theatre for Best Music and Sound and a Herald Angel.
Andy told us: “I worked with David, Wils Wilson and Alasdair five years ago on a kids’ show and we decided to get together again.
“It was one of those shows where we had no idea how it would go down.
“We first performed in Brechin’s Bar in Govan, which is a real salt-of-the-earth pub. It went down a storm and we went on a three week tour of venues across Scotland.
“It has proved a fabulous success and there has been a real mix of people coming to see it.”
After three festival slots, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart will be taken across the globe this year and next, including the United States.
Andy says: “People have asked how I think it will be received as there are a lot of old Scots words.
“But I think if we were to change it for the American audiences, like they did with Gregory’s Girl, it would end up sounding something like Brigadoon. It would be horrendous.”
As for a return to River City, where Andy played doctor Michael Brodie from 2010 until last month, the Blair Atholl actor said: “I really enjoyed my time there, but I think it is now time to move on.”
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is performed in the Tait Hall, Kelso on Friday May 4 and Saturday May 5, at 7.30pm both nights. Tickets (£8/£6) can be bought from Browns Newsagents, phone 01573 224269.
It is also to appear at Langholm’s Buccleuch Centre on June 1 - phone 01387 381196 for more information.