Su Pollard is regrettably unconvincing as old mother Birdie, our eponymous Harpy. Pollard’s Hi-de-Hi! fame as Peggy has granted her national-treasure status, and considerable pre-Fringe publicity as a result; but I was disappointed by the script's exploration of hoarding as a social issue, which is less sophisticated than I think the issue warrants. I left with a feeling that I’d seen nothing much more than Su Pollard, never mind Peggy.
Where recent TV shows have featured a saviour rushing in to assist bewildered individuals in divesting their accumulation of stuff – the detritus which often blocks passage to and from their refuse-laden homes – Philip Meeks’s play features an insipid social worker, who has been ineffective so far in bullying Harpy to get rid of her belongings.
Having watched a number of very accomplished solo shows at the Fringe, I was disappointed by Pollard’s apparent lack of technique, particularly when holding two sides of a conversation. This she did not pull off successfully at all – which meant the social worker just didn’t live, and the piece lost dramatic impact. For me, it also lost its way; I wasn’t always clear what was happening or who was talking.
The set resembles any attic full of memorabilia, but here is purportedly Birdie’s front room. It has been carefully assembled from dated cardboard boxes, paintings, racquets, dolls, and similar paraphernalia, but it is too ordered to be authentic here, and Birdie has no problem finding her goldfish confidante – somewhat lame as a device I thought – nor even bringing to hand a Soreen malt loaf to offer the social worker when she is due to visit.
Pollard’s opening is lively, dancing down the aisle to the stage carrying a CD player and singing using a hairbrush as a microphone. However, it isn’t comic enough to sustain repeated versions, each time undertaken with an accompanying banging on the ceiling from the neighbour (whom Birdie insults loudly for doing so, threatening to play Wuthering Heights at full blast during the night if she doesn’t quit banging now).
Peggy from Hi-De-Hi was never far away – Pollard delivered every line in the same, familiar monotone, and Birdie neither endeared herself to me, nor lived as real. The big reveal designed to give explanation to Birdie’s supposed hoarding was unremarkable, and didn’t really land as a real reason. Birdie was moved to tears but I don’t think anyone else was.
Sadly, this new venture for Su Pollard didn’t inspire. Applause was respectable, but didn’t reflect the enthusiasm I’ve seen in other shows. Perhaps we expected more because she’s famous, and perhaps that’s not fair. But I feel Pollard’s future is not in this particular one-woman show – which didn’t do anything for an understanding of hoarding, either.