Spring now appears to be edging its way towards us and as it does, so does one of the landmarks of the East Anglian theatrical year. Slipping itself into gear on the 15th of March at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, the Eastern Angles’ Spring Tour Transit van doesn’t finally pull on the hand break until it gets to The Cut in Halesworth some eleven weeks, fifty four performances, forty five venues and, presumably, several thousand miles later. It’s the sort of itinerary which would bring even the most sanguine multi-drop delivery driver out in a cold sweat.
Things are a little different this year however. The Spring Tour’s offering is usually rich imbued with East Anglia legend, folklore or history and will often be receiving its theatrical debut on the tour. But that’s not the case this year as not only is The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart set in the Scottish borders, it has already been produced – to great acclaim it should be added – by The National Theatre of Scotland.
Pitched as one part folk-gig, one part folk-tale and a third part comedy the eponymous Prudentia Hart is a staid academic who loves folk-lore and the ballads in which the border country is so rich. Attending a conference in Kelso she finds herself stranded by a blizzard in a pub advertising a ceilidh, which turns out to be a Katy Perry karaoke.
Disappointed and disillusioned she wanders off into the storm and encounters the devil before experiencing a revelatory episode in a car park. The mind boggles! The story is woven four story-tellers who incorporate rhyming verse and a lot of music into their narrative, occasionally mocking the very border ballads which Prudentia herself is so smitten by. Even the great Rabbie Burns receives a gentle teasing.
Playwright David Greig is generally acknowledged as Scottish theatre’s most successful writer. He is certainly amongst the most prolific, having written over 30 plays, including the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which some of you may have seen in London’s West End. Whilst he’s become known as a political voice in Scotland his work is not overtly so and focuses more on identity, and the roots and place of an individual in a national story – both past and present.
The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart was originally written to be performed in pubs and bars, where the rollicking, riotous action could interlace itself between the tables at which the audience sat. Issacs on the Quay in Ipswich is the only venue on the tour which is a bona-fide public house and that is perhaps a little disappointing given that there are pubs in the region which do put on some theatre. Nevertheless the set-up which Greig wrote for should transfer exceedingly well to the intimate, non-theatrical venues which Eastern Angles’ Spring Tour utilises.
For me part of the pleasure of the Spring Tour is always the set. The finessed utility of something which must at once both serve the purposes of the play, and fit neatly into the back of a transit van (not to say be quick and easy to build and dismantle) must be an extraordinarily fine judgement for Eastern Angles and yet is one of those things which goes unnoticed by the audience – unless of course they get it wrong, which I have to say I cannot remember them doing.
The sets for The Long Way Home and Private Resistance spring to mind as particularly successful examples and whether the setting of Prudentia Hart proves a boon or a burden in that respect will be interesting to see. Director Hal Chambers previously worked with Eastern Angles on the production, Ragnarok, the Norse gods epic which played at the Hush House at RAF Bentwaters. The set for that was suitably evocative and Hal promises that the designer for Prudentia Hart, Bek Palmer, has a dark and daring imagination, so the portents look good.
I have not actually tracked the Spring Tour on a map but I find it difficult to imagine that there are many, if any, parts of East Anglia which are not crossed at some point during the eleven weeks of its progress. From Brentwood in the south to Cley-Next-the-Sea in the north, and from Lowestoft in the east to Peterborough in the west, if the tour usually pitches near you then, chances are, it will be back again this year.
Doubtless there are a few changes from last year, and Hatfield strikes me as a new venue, but they may be a case of poor memory on my part. The way to be sure is to get along to the Eastern Angles website, which is looking very swish and is far easier to navigate after its make-over, and to tap on the link to Prudencia Hart. You can buy tickets for some of the dates directly on the Eastern Angles website or find the contact details for the venues which are handling ticket sales independently.
[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]Find out more on the Eastern Angles website, here: www.easternangles.co.uk [/box]