Su Pollard brings gritty tale of Harpy to Theatre Royal stage

Su Pollard in Harpy

Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018, personality and national treasure Su Pollard returns to reprise her role in Harpy by award-winning playwright Philip Meeks.

Best known for her star-turn as Peggy in the BAFTA award-winning sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, Pollard has had a career in showbusiness spanning four decades. 

In her latest tour she returns to the stage as Birdie in Harpy, a play originally commissioned for her, now under new direction by Abigail Anderson.

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 80s, 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.

Pollard said: “ 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.”

Harpy will be on stage at Theatre Royal Margate on March 27 at 7.30pm.

Tickets: Full Price £18, FOMT £2 off, Buy 10 get 11th free (only via the box office by phone/in person), Booking Fee: £2 per ticket

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Interview with Su Pollard

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.