Who: Wils Wilson, director and co-creator of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart from the National Theatre of Scotland, now playing at The Heath at the McKittrick Hotel
Outside: The McKittrick Hotel
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is a modern-day music-filled fable about a woman captured by the Devil. I know you’ve been touring the show for a few years now—tell me a little bit about how it all began.
WW: The production started in a small pub in Scotland. It was made to tour in any space—any bar—so that we could turn up and just use what’s there. After we’d done a tour of Scotland and we’d done the Edinburgh Festival, the show got picked up for more festivals. As part of NYC Tartan Week this year, we did the show at Lincoln Center. Jonathan Hoschwald [co-founder of Emursive, the company behind Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel] saw it and it all came together very quickly.
Did you have to change it for New York at all?
WW: No, and it has to do with the room here at The Heath. Because the production travels around the room, and there’s no divide between the performers and the audience—the layout of the room and the atmosphere of the room is incredibly important. In a way, it gives you what a set might give you. When we walked into The Heath, it was almost spooky it was so perfect. It’s got a cozy, convivial feel, like you could nurse a whiskey here and be told a story. It feels like you’re in a Scottish pub, but you’re in the middle of New York. So the strange thing is we didn’t really have to change it all.
The show takes place in and among the audience. How important is their presence and/or participation?
WW: It’s threaded through the play—it’s integral. Theatre only happens as a conversation with the audience, and the audience’s imagination makes the theatre along with the performers. Particularly here, where there’s limited lighting and sound, we’re making theatre with very simple props. We’re asking the audience to make the show with us, so it’s obvious that they should get involved.
The audience is given a whiskey on arrival. What happens if they get rowdy or too drunk during the show?
WW: We haven’t really had rowdy audiences. We get people who are enthusiastic and, very occasionally, someone who’s inappropriate, but it’s really rare. I think audiences are generally very clever and sensitive—you have to trust them. We always wanted Prudencia Hart [which we tell as a folk tale] to have the feel of—what you would call in Scotland—a folk session, or a Ceilidh. They’re usually at a pub, and people bring their instruments and play folk music and dance. The fact that people can drink is part of the experience itself.
A live performance, in essence, is always new but I feel like immersive theatre, which depends on audience participation, takes that principle one step further—would you agree with that?
WW: As a company we say: “Every audience is the perfect audience.” Sometimes they’re louder, other times they’re quieter, or more hesitant. It means each show is different. We’ve been doing Prudencia Hart for a while now and we’re still learning things, and the show still has a freshness about it. It never settles because the relationship with the audience is always different.
Your bio says you’ve created theatre on a Shetland ferry, a Berlin nightclub, in the woods, in cars moving and stationary, on the top floor of an office block, in a department store, in a deserted house in the town where you grew up, pubs, village halls, nightclubs, tents, and theatres too. As someone who’s been creating immersive theatre for some time now, how does it feel to have arrived at one of the most famous places for immersive theatre in the world?
WW: Its fantastic. It’s almost beyond expression. We made the show without any notion that it would travel the way that it has and have this kind of longevity. Also—I find it heartening that the show is set in a small town in Scotland but has this universal appeal. It means that we’re communicating as cultures through the power of simple storytelling.
Learn more about the show by visiting StrangeUndoing.com/