National treasure Su Pollard turns her comic eye to a serious story about mental health struggles in new play Harpy.
“Hello this is Miss Su, how are you?” goes Su Pollard’s breezy, disarming introduction, setting the tone for an encounter that’s all jollity, candour, and lust-for-life zip.
If audiences at the actress/singer/comedian’s Fringe production get even half of her energy and engagement, they’ll be laughing.
They will, too, it seems, be thoroughly moved. Harpy is a one-woman drama in which Pollard – best known for towering Eighties sitcom Hi-De-Hi! but recently sprinkling fairy dust on TV all over again in comedy reality show Last Laugh In Vegas – plays a troubled soul named Birdie. She’s a woman derided by her neighbours as a harridan and weirdo whose obsessive hoarding is evidence of there-goes-the-neighbourhood anti-social behaviour and madness. The truth, of course, is more powerful and nuanced than that.
“There some great fun elements in the play,” says Pollard, highlighting a soundtrack of Sixties, Seventies and Eighties music. “But obviously the poor woman’s situation suggests things have happened in her life. I think that’s the case with hoarders: at some point in their life, a significant thing has happened.
“It’s become a nationally known mental disorder – you can’t now poo-poo people who are hoarders. And it’s amazing how many people I’ve spoken to while rehearsing this piece – blimey, loads of people are hoarders!” she rattles in a distinctive, Nottingham-accented voice that exerts a powerful muscle memory for anyone who grew up on Eighties telly.
“Maybe not as extreme as Birdie,” she adds, “but we’ve all got a capacity for just stuffing things in a cupboard.”
Harpy is written by Fringe First-winner Philip Meeks (Kiss Me Honey, Honey!). He and Pollard first met when they shared a pantomime stage.
“He was a dame, I was the old wicked queen. And he said one day, ‘I think I’ve got something that would be right up your street and I’d really like you to do it.’ And from that little seed…
“It’s really nice to have something written for you,” Pollard continues. “You feel extra confident with the material.”
It sounds like she’ll need that confidence to play a character as complex as Birdie. As Meeks says: “I’ve suffered from mental health problems all my life… I guess I’ve started to believe that everyone has mental health issues to some degree or another. Madness is normal. So, in this play, the Harpy knows people think she’s mad, but she embraces her identity and this gives her freedom. She has a sad story to tell but she should also be an inspiration.”
A challenging role, then, but the indomitable Pollard seems more than up to the task. She’s equally excited that her Edinburgh debut will also be a chance to reunite with her old pal Jeffrey Holland.
He played Spike in Hi-De-Hi! and is here doing a one-man show about Laurel & Hardy.
“I said, ‘right Jeff, we have to go out to dinner.’” And tweet the pic to the diehard fans of your holiday camp classic?
“Oh that’s a good idea!” the 68-year-old hoots. “But I don’t do social media!
The great thing as well, darling, is that You Rang M’Lord?, which we did afterwards is really big in Hungary. Can you believe it? So in September all us remaining cast are off to Budapest. They’re going to give us a nice lovely weekend in a beautiful hotel, and we’re just going to wander about, see the sights,
and smile a lot and pose for pictures.
“It’s lovely, it keeps everything alive. The great thing is, darling, it’s so nice to think you’ve been involved with something that still brings pleasure to people.”
Hang on to your hats, Edinburgh and Budapest, the mighty Miss Su is coming to town.
Su Pollard: Harpy – Where & When
Underbelly Cowgate, 2-26 August