Stephe Harrop deposited “It Happens in Ballads”: Scotland, Utopia, and Traditional Song in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart in the group Ethnomusicology on Humanities Commons 10 months, 3 weeks ago
In the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (2011), the eponymous heroine is a collector of ballads, who views her role as the loving preservation of traditional artworks. However, Prudencia’s perspective is challenged by her late-night encounter with the sinister Nick, whose own passion for collecting forces Prudencia to revise her sense of the ballad’s nature, and potential functions. In Greig’s drama, the ballad’s protean form proves to be both infectious, and transformative, and this process isn’t necessarily limited to the play’s characters. This chapter highlights the ways in which the ballad, in the course of the drama, becomes a catalyst for live, collective vocalisation. It contends that via processes of ‘musicking’ (as defined by Christopher Small) and ‘presencing’ (as described by James Porter, and recently elaborated by Mairi McFadyen), the show’s audience is also offered its own experience of ballad performance. Taking David Greig’s evocation of an imaginatively transformative ‘rough theatre’ as stimulus, the chapter also reflects upon the value of the traditional ballad for politically-engaged theatre more broadly, utilising Jill Dolan’s descriptions of a ‘utopian performative’ to consider how and why contemporary theatre artists might choose to borrow from of the sociable, participatory dynamics of the ceilidh. It concludes that Greig’s playful exploration of the ballad not only offers a stomping evening’s entertainment, but can also be located within a wider project of promoting a lively, popular and multi-vocal debate concerning Scottish identity and destiny.