Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018, personality and national treasure Su Pollard (Hi-De-Hi! and You Rang M’Lord?, BBC) returns to reprise her role in Harpy by award-winning playwright Philip Meeks (Kiss Me Honey, Honey!; Murder, Margaret and Me), as part of an extensive UK tour this Spring, including Newtown and Abergavenny.
How would you describe the show to someone who hasn’t seen it?
Harpy tells a funny and tragic story about one woman’s lifelong battle to find a treasured possession she once lost. It makes you think about the idea of mental health and how its dealt with. Birdie has mental health issues, but she also has a different way of looking at things that’s wiser than many of the characters she encounters. The play makes you wonder if some people are diagnosed as suffering from certain conditions just because they don’t quite fit in with societies expectations of normal behaviour.
What was it that initially drew you to the play?
Firstly, the big attraction was having a play written for me. That has never happened, so I was mega excited! Secondly, when I read the script I was immediately struck by how real, sincere, poignant and funny it was. A piece well worth doing.
You previously created the role as your Edinburgh Fringe debut in 2018. What excites you most about returning to this character and has your relationship with her changed?
I was very gratified to play Birdie, so I am thrilled to be revisiting her. The author, Philip Meeks, has been able to add more scenes to the piece, enabling her to show more sides of her character and have more layers, bringing out more of her quirks.
Some people take hoarding to the extreme. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve kept hold of?
It’s not really weird but I have had a long, multicoloured hand-knitted dress with a big collar for 40 years and I can turn it into a mini skirt. It is marvellous.
Do you think modern discussions of mental health are inclusive of an older generation, or do we focus too much on the millennials?
Mental Health is now thankfully on the agenda and people are able to talk openly about it. But only a few decades ago it was still a taboo subject. People were told to pull their bootstraps up and get on with things. There must be thousands of older people who’ve lived their lives with illnesses like chronic depression but have never been able to say how they feel, and I think their voices and experiences are unheard. It’s also an issue that someone like Birdie, who had an extreme and more obvious mental illness, will have been through so many shifts in medication over the last few years. Mental health drugs are developing at a high rate. In the play she’s stopped taking her pills and I can’t say I blame her.
What do you want audiences to take away from the production?
I’d like to think that they come away feeling hope and a bit more empathy about people who behave differently to themselves. Often, we latch on to those around us who are seen to not be “normal” because they make us look completely sane, stable and socially acceptable, when if truth be told we all have our foibles and odd ways. Harpy is also a play about the lives that touch us where we live. Birdie collects lost stories and the histories of people long gone and forgotten. Hopefully it will make you look differently at the people you see every day where you live.
A lot of people will know you as Peggy from the award-winning sitcom Hi-de-Hi! What is the biggest difference between performing on stage and screen?
For me, the biggest difference is that stage is immediate. It is live and the performance is happening that very minute and once only. Whereas TV is mostly recorded and often shown six months later, so is far less immediate. Also, stage work is one take!
What are you most looking forward to while on tour?
I am looking forward to re visiting theatres I have played before and playing new venues. It is always exciting to enter a new stage door. I am hoping, too, to catch up with mates because some don’t live in London, so it is great to have a drink and a catch up.
Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018, personality and national treasure Su Pollard (Hi-De-Hi! and You Rang M’Lord?, BBC) returns to reprise her role in Harpy by award-winning playwright Philip Meeks (Kiss Me Honey, Honey!; Murder, Margaret and Me), as part of an extensive UK tour this Spring.
Best known for her star-turn as Peggy in the BAFTA award-winning sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, the much-loved Su Pollard has had a career in showbusiness spanning four decades. She returns to the stage as Birdie in Harpy, a play originally commissioned for her, now under new direction by Abigail Anderson (Pride and Prejudice, UK and South Korean tour; Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing, Merely Theatre).
A tour-de-force performance from Pollard, Harpy is a heart wrenching exploration of one woman’s struggles with mental health and loneliness, manifesting itself through extreme hoarding. At heart it’s a bittersweet dramatic comedy, which showcases a grittier side to the Su Pollard of the eighties, and also asks us to look beyond our prejudices against those who appear to disrupt the norm.
The neighbours call Birdie a harridan and a harpy even though most of them have never even met her. They see her obsessive hoarding as detrimental to the value of their own homes. For Birdie, saving what others regard as the junk from her own life allows her to make sense of the world around her; her possessions are memories of a time past. Shunned by conventional society, she regards it as her duty to salvage these tiny histories that without her would be entirely forgotten.
Harpy is inspired by the retro cinematic sub-genre of Grand Dame Guignol – or ‘hag horror’ – wherein fading stars battled to survive by playing mad, potentially dangerous women or bewildered creatures in peril. Beneath their acting veneer were brave and brilliant women and Meeks is fascinated by their survival instincts. This idea of struggling and fighting for what we believe in comes to the fore in Harpy which seeks to explore mental health, questioning what madness really is.
Su comments, I am thrilled to be able to bring Harpy to a wider audience across the UK, having first performed it at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018. I hope the new audiences enjoy themselves as much as I’m enjoying revisiting this complex character. Philip Meeks’ writing is both funny and poignant, and many people have remarked at how relatable the content is, openly tackling issues of mental health.
Su Pollard gives the performance of her life, an unmissable tour-de-force of comedy and drama brought together in a fantastically constructed piece of theatre. (★★★★★ Theatre Weekly, Edinburgh Fringe 2018)
12th – 13th March King’s Theatre
24 Albert Road, Portsmouth, Southsea PO5 2QJ
18th March Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Westgate Street, Bury Saint Edmunds IP33 1QR
20th March Brunton Theatre
Ladywell Way, Musselburgh EH21 6AA
25th March Haymarket Anvil Arts
Wote Street, Basingstoke RG21 7NW
27th March Theatre Royal Margate
Addington Street, Margate CT9 1PW
28th March Cornerstone Arts Centre
25 Station Road, Didcot OX11 7NE
29th March Castle Theatre
10 Castle Way, Wellingborough NN8 1XA
2nd April Pavilion Arts Centre
22 St John’s Road, Buxton SK17 6XN
8th April Theatr Hafren
Llanidloes Road, Newtown SY16 4HU
9th April Waterside Theatre
1 Waterside, Sale M33 7ZF
14th April Blackpool Grand Theatre
33 Church Street, Blackpool FY1 1HT
15th April Gala Theatre
1 Millennium Place, Durham DH1 1WA
16th April Old Laundry Theatre
Crag Brow, Bowness-on-Windermere, Windermere LA23 3BX
20th – 21st April Leicester Curve, Studio
Rutland Street, Leicester, LE1 1SB
23rd April The Horsham Capitol
North Street, Horsham RH12 1RG
25th April Hull Truck Theatre
50 Ferensway, Hull HU2 8LB
28th April The Hazlitt Theatre
36 Earl St, Maidstone ME14 1PP
30th April Borough Theatre
Town Hall, Cross Street, Abergavenny NP7 5HD
2nd May Lichfield Garrick Theatre
Castle Dyke, Lichfield WS13 6HR