Review: Harpy at Underbelly Cowgate

Living alone, isolated and disconnected from most others, Birdie is a hoarder, grasping with her talons at the shackles of the past. Desperately clinging to nostalgia, all the while blasting out Kate Bush to rile up the neighbours.

Philip Meeks’ powerful script manages to draw out poignant connections between Birdie and her large collection of curios, exploring the deep love we attach to inanimate objects. The piece also requires a sharp sense of comic timing. Luckily for Meeks, he’s got national treasure Su Pollard on board.

Pollard rises to the challenge, joining forces with Meek to craft a bitter-sweet production. Pollard is effortless in transforming into the damaged Birdie, mastering both the comedic touches but excelling when the knife must be plugged in.

Pollard also performs multiple roles, acting as Birdie, Mrs Featherstone, and her departed aunts. Unfortunately, this is a little jarring, especially at the start. Perhaps direction from Hannah Chissick could have been tighter in this aspect, as it’s unclear at the outset whether the story is following multiple characters, or if we’re to assume Birdie suffers from some form of mental illness which causes her to assume different personalities. On the other hand, Alex Markers set design, tiny yet cramped, suits the play perfectly. The jam-packed stage surrounding Pollard uses every inch available, visualising her hoarder’s trove excellently.

As the play progresses, our laughs begin to fall silent as Birdie’s story turns and Meek’s narrative spins into a more deceitful tale of macabre pathos, drawing us in further.

Su Pollard’s first outing to the Fringe is a long overdue treat and in Harpy she delivers a powerful performance which has the audience hooked from the thunderous entrance straight through. Long may we reside within the Harpy’s nest.

Harpy at Underbelly Cowgate, 7-26 Aug, 4pm

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