Sunday, January 16, 2022

Kylie meets Ceilidh in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

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David Greig’s Wild Adventures is a weird, hilarious supernatural story – and the music is adorable

David Greig’s Wild Adventures, an occult romantic comedy genre written in verse and co-created with director Wils Wilson in 2011, originally toured pubs. Debbie Hannan’s revival conjures some of that ease and intimacy into the embracing circle of the Royal Exchange in Manchester, alternately as warm and glowing as a cozy log fire and dangerously passionate, licked by tongues of hellish flame. It is often untidy, but when its way meanders through the forest its rich, odd storytelling is a dark delight.

Would you know the devil if you met him? In this fantastic tale based on Scottish border ballads, a wise young woman has such a demonic encounter on a freezing midwinter night

Prudencia Hart (hilariously appealing Joanne Thomson) is an academic specializing in Scottish folklore, particularly depictions of the underworld. When she and her fellow delegates are snowed in at a conference near the border town of Kelso, she takes refuge in a bar block advertising a “Folk Nite” (the spelling makes the literal Prudencia shudder). But horrified by bad Bob Dylan impersonators and karaoke, she braves the weather and tries to find a B&B. Instead, she is led to Hell, where she unravels the mysteries of her own heart for the first time.

Cheerfully performed by a group of six, the show rolls through Michael John McCarthy’s beautiful compositions, in which traditional tunes collide with jukebox hits. Ceilidh meets Kylie as Thomson’s Prudencia sings a steamy version of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” to Paul Tinto’s shaggy devil, who has a penchant for shiny stilettos and scarlet faux fur. And when she stumbles into a spooky, run-down housing development, she meets a spooky young mother who tries to lure her with vodka and ziggies, and sings a hauntingly beautiful ballad of heartbreak and abandonment.

The unkempt bar carpet and dollhouse town of Max John’s set are replaced with necromantic symbols and imprisoning wands of glowing light as Prudencia is trapped in Hell; Chases and erotic embraces are given a high-flying dynamic with high stakes through the use of a swing. A sequence in which a bachelor party takes place in the pub, the revelers screeching, harpy-like birds – a flamingo, an eagle, a peacock and a dove – survive their reception.

But Oliver Wellington is hilarious as Dr. Colin Syme, Prudencia’s cute, motorcycling academic rival who insists reality TV and soccer chants are the folk ballads of the modern world; There’s a sweetness beneath his smugness, and he turns out to be the key to her realization that beauty isn’t just found in books, and love sometimes means embracing the mundane. It’s all delightfully dizzy, clever and deliciously silly at the same time: a fiery shot of elation to liven up another uncertain winter.

Until January 15 (0161 833 9833)

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