Photo by Karla Gowlett
One of the pleasures of the Edinburgh Fringe is to see familiar performers doing something new, and that was certainly the case with Harpy by Philip Meeks, a one woman play with Su Pollard playing an elderly hoarder and some of the other people in her life, especially her well-meaning social worker Mrs Featherstone. Appearing from the back of the small White Belly venue, Pollard is almost unrecognisable when dressed down for the role and without her trademark glasses, but it is immediately clear that she is more than up to the challenge of such a part.
The play is performed on a set (Alex Marker) which is far more elaborate than is usually the case at a Fringe venue, and this adds greatly to the effect, as does the assured touch of experienced director Hannah Chissick. Bridget – known as Birdie – hoards everything and is struggling with the effort to get rid of at least 3 things as she is encouraged to do by her social worker. We piece her story together gradually as we discover that she had a tragic early life and was then brought up by her Aunt. What she may or may not have done to that Aunt, and the role played by a baby in her story, is never entirely clear to us, or perhaps to Birdie.
The confusion in this woman’s life is well conjured up by the deft touches in Meeks’ assured and convincing script and by Pollard who uses her considerable experience to great effect, in a role that offers her new challenges which she meets admirably. This must be the smallest venue she has played for a long time and at some moments the performance is perhaps a little rushed – although maybe that is all part of Birdie’s way of dealing with the world.
Pollard is particularly good at the vulnerability beneath the bravado, as she plaintively explains the reason for the hoarding as being that it is “all evidence that I’ve been here.” Whether thinking aloud, shouting at the neighbours or talking to her fish, Su Pollard offers a convincing, tragic and heartfelt portrayal of a woman who has been much wronged and is in danger of being forgotten. It would be good to see her in other serious roles in future.