Liam Rudden: Forgive me for harping on about Su’s Fringe debut

Su Pollard
Su Pollard
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HAVE to say, it’s long overdue. Yes, at 68-years-young the irrepressible Su Pollard is currently making her Fringe debut in a wonderfully bitter-sweet piece by Fringe First Award-winning playwright Philip Meeks.

Harpy tells the story of aging eccentric Birdie. Birdie lives alone. She is a hoarder with a love of Bananarama and singing into her hairbrush. The neighbours call her a harpy, although most have never met her.

They see her hoard of treasures as a threat to house prices, but all her bits and bobs aren’t rubbish, well, not to Birdie. Her ‘collection’ is her life’s work. It exists because, many years before, something she deeply cherished was stolen.

Birdie has not been able to give up anything since.

In the role, Su flits about the stage apparently gloriously unconcerned by the world around her.

Denial is bliss as she rants at her neighbour on the other side of the wall; how dare she bang through to object to Birdie’s performances on her ‘make-shift portable karaoke’.

Her sole companion, a gold fish I’m not quite convinced would survive its decampment to a tea pot is also on the receiving end of Birdie’s never-ending flow of verbalised thought as she struggles to process the trials of everyday life.

Don’t worry, no goldfish are harmed in the telling of this story.

Based loosely on characters Meeks has met, situations he has encountered, along with his own slightly skewed imagination, Birdie is a gentle comedy with a dark heart that never quite dims Su’s natural effervescence.

That doesn’t mean it’s all Hi De Hi and high energy, quite the opposite. Su may be a little powerhouse off-stage and Birdie is too, she is also devastatingly still when the need arises.

It’s a nuanced performance that, combined with Meek’s script, allows the sadness of the character to seep subtly through the smiling facade.

Meek’s writing is natural and down to Earth, tackling disturbing themes with a gentleness that makes the ultimate reveal all the more poignant.

Importantly, he brings a resolution full of hope to a piece that could easily have taken a far more predictable turn.

With no hint of her trademark specs and loud colours, this is a great vehicle that lets Su remind people that beneath the bubbly exterior is an accomplished actor.

Alone on stage for an hour with just her imaginary friends for company, it is no mean feat.

Catching up in the bar afterwards, it was great to have the ‘real’ Su back and on cracking form. Her blisteringly funny observations of her first Fringe had me laughing out loud.

Over the years, I’ve seen Su in many productions, Harpy is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Go see. It runs at Underbelly Cowgate, daily at 4pm, until 26 August, although Su does take a break on the thirteenth.

@LiamRudden