It’s hard to believe that this is Su Pollard’s first time performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, the beloved national treasure makes her debut in Philip Meek’s Harpy at Underbelly Cowgate. Directed by Hannah Chissick, this beautiful piece of theatre tells an important story of mental health and loneliness, delivered in a unique and engaging style.
Pollard performs solo in a classic monologue set up, often talking to her fish, social worker, or through the wall to a next-door neighbour. Mostly though she’s just talking to herself and we are privileged enough to listen in. Birdie is a hoarder, though she prefers the term “saver or rescuer” and her home is packed with a lifetime of possessions that have never been thrown away. She “swims” from room to room through carefully constructed tunnels but is never far from drowning in her own mess.
Harpy opens very much as a comedy, it’s riotously funny and ideal material for Su Pollard. One joke about the Queen Mother had the audience in absolute stitches, and you can spot mere hints of Hi-de-Hi’s Peggy or You Rang M’Lord’s Ivy in Pollard’s delivery. Then, very subtly everything changes. Birdie’s circumstances begin to unravel, she needs help and the desperation she feels begins to pour off the stage, it’s incredibly moving and deeply affecting.
Beautifully directed, you can see real care and attention has gone in to the staging of this piece. The set is cluttered with Birdie’s belongings but not to the point of being overbearing, little details like the Somerfield carrier bag show how much has been put into ensuring the realism can shine through.
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. It is impossible not to be moved by Birdie’s story and for all the writing and direction is strong, it is Su Pollard who makes Harpy her own.