Why, She Fucked the Devil: neither review nor poem
I can only talk of what’s invoked
in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,
and in doing that, of course, I show
what ‘winter’ means to me, what ‘Christmas’ is, what
‘verse’ might be. For a story of obsession
(devotion?) Prudencia’s flaw is living too much
apart, binding herself to purity
of a kind her own invention, outwardly
cold but brilliant, unable to touch
the lives of others. The major agitation
of the play is goading her to find
fulfilment in a source un-dead, outside
herself. But know the play is (not the thing)
a single heap of links, a single line: invoking.
A single heap of links. A single line. Invoking
the scam of narrative, we can expect
a lesson from Prudencia’s journey, wherein
the subject which she loves she must reject.
This is a Christian Christmas ghost story;
the dread force which leads our heroine
astray is a chorus of devilish harpies
– representatives of hen dos – a folk practice
Prudencia’s academic preferences have no time for.
Her subject is ‘The topography of Hell’
and karaoke is too crass a pastime to endure.
She flees the bar into the snow-bound night, to find
a library of Hell-literature (!what luck?)
when kidnapped by the Devil, whom she fucks.
When kidnapped by the Devil, whom she fucks
eventually, the play abandons being written in verse.
Prudencia is held captive in the library, and watched
incessantly by the Devil, her host. He keeps her
for thousands of years while she categorises and
catalogues the library of Hell. Her academic
specialisation has become now a manipulative
and abusive relationship, culminating in the two
fucking, and Prudencia realising she needs to leave,
cannot exist without the outside world. Where before
Prudencia was caught for not heeding the folk
cautions of the songs she studies, now she uses
them, and flees on a midwinter’s night,
through a hole in the worlds, and into the snow.
Through a hole in the worlds, and into the snow-
blanketed night she left, met there
by Colin Syme, an emblem of the culture
she disdains – though he saves her, and although
they end paired up together (in the manner
of the Netflix Xmas trash I’m binging
every day). Hell’s all well and good
but Prudencia’s abstract, ungrounded
love for it was poison. I might say, then,
the ‘folk’ of Prudencia Hart is gregarious,
boisterous, anarchistic – a force to open
and connect its subjects – extended to us
in the guise of Lil Nas X’s Montero.
Long as we sing together, it’s folk music now.
‘Long as we sing together, it’s folk music now’
is a fine message when everyone has a voice.
Academics’ voices largely are sound
during Prudencia’s journey. The choice
to deliberately present a council-housed mother
as a pure-but-fallen Magdalene,
her fiery death caused by an errant fag-end,
is key to this play’s concept of the othered
working class. The salt-of-the-earth become
symbols quickly. Prudencia was wrong
to be abstract; was she wrong to be a snob?
The common can’t be spoken with, are gone.
I’ve drawn no easy answers in my notes,
I can only talk of what’s invoked.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart runs at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 15 January. More info here.