Coming to an old Rainier Brewery near you: National Theatre of Scotland’s “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” an immersive show mixing traditional Scottish ballads, an academic stranded in a snowstorm — you can help create the snow — and a bar.
In 2013, when the National Theatre of Scotland came to this bonny city with its war drama “Black Watch,” audience members were “embedded” with actors playing Scottish soldiers in the Middle East.
Now the troupe offers another immersive experience to Seattle: a snowy midwinter bash of spooky tales and Scottish ballads, riotous partying and metaphysical romance, in a mock cabaret in the old Rainier Brewery complex.
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” premiered in Glasgow in 2011 and has toured the U.K. and beyond. Its global appeal becomes obvious once you enter the Factory Luxe, an unpretentious special-event venue tucked into the brewery, take a seat at a communal table, grab a drink from the bar, and soak up the lilting, stomping sounds of traditional Scottish music.
‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart’
Opens Friday, March 4, and runs through March 20 at the Factory Luxe in the old Rainier Brewery, 3100 Airport Way S., Seattle; $45 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
Matters get more interesting, and surprising, as the five agile actor-musicians romp around the room, hop on tables and exhort you to toss fake snow in the air, lead a singalong of “Guantanamera” and a Kylie Minogue pop tune, and convey (in rhymed couplets) the transformational fable of a prissy young academic snowbound in Kelso (Scotland, not Washington). She’s in for a very eventful night and so, judging from a preview performance, is the audience.
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What inspired the crowd-pleasing “Prudencia Hart,” says director Wils Wilson (who crafted the show with playwright David Greig), was the Border Ballads — long narrative poems and songs from the Scottish hinterlands bordering England, stories passed along for centuries.
“They deal with all the really good stuff — birth, death, love, betrayal, the supernatural,” Wilson explained. 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 (the radiant Jessica Hardwick), an ardent young expert on border ballads and a fish out of water among more cynical, postmodern (and handily lampooned) colleagues at a conference in Kelso.
Unable to drive home to Edinburgh, the prim Prudencia visits a pub where a “folk night” devolves into a raucous, drunken bacchanal. (Audience participation encouraged.) Rattled, she takes shelter in a (literally) hellish B&B run by a sinister host.
Swinging from silly to serious, snarky to poetic, “Prudencia” sports a hardy, fearless cast, also including actor-musicians Annie Grace, Alasdair Macrae, Paul McCole and David McKay.
“The fact that the actors are right in amongst the audience means they have to be absolutely in the moment,” emphasizes 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, and around a table with drink in hand “relaxes people and intrigues them.”
Josh Labelle, executive director of the Seattle Theatre Group, which is presenting “Prudencia Hart,” says he checked out 30 venues before settling on what used to be the tasting room of the old Rainier Brewery. The place has the worn, comfy aura of an old pub, seats 120, and there’s free parking.
“We’ve been interested in doing high-quality immersive theater experiences, so this was a good reason to try this, and take some risks that people are not necessarily expecting from us,” notes Labelle, whose organization also runs the Paramount, Moore and Neptune theatres.
The 10-year old National Theatre of Scotland has performed more than 200 productions in such diverse settings as airports, schools, apartment buildings, community halls, ferries and forests.
“The most important interaction,” reflects freelance director Wilson, “is that of the imagination of the audience with the story being told.”