Su Pollard and Harpy: no glitter, no glasses, hardly any makeup – I'm very much bare

The ”Hi-de-Hi!” actor stars in a one-woman touring play about hoarding this spring

Su Pollard
Su Pollard
© Karla Gowlett

Most famous for her lead in TV's Hi-De-Hi! in the 1980s, and more recently on stage in such pantomimes as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Malvern Theatres, Waterside Theatre) and Dick Whittington (Wolverhampton Grand Theatre), Su Pollard is about to embark on a UK tour with one-woman show Harpy. The play, written by Philip Meeks, explores a woman's struggles with mental health, isolation and hoarding – it premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 and is now playing around the UK this spring.

We caught up with Pollard ahead of the tour's opening to talk about the show, Edinburgh and the move away from her usual comedic roles:

How are you feeling ahead of the Harpy tour?

"Luckily I've done a version of it before at the Edinburgh Festival, but it must be about two years now that Philip [Meeks] first thought of it. We worked together in a panto and he said to me, 'when I come up with the right thing that I think might be suitable, I'll definitely send you a script.'

"We've had really good meetings about it, but equally he's distancing himself at rehearsal. He doesn't want to interfere with Abi [Anderson] the director – he's very good at sharing the experience after living with the script for a long time, I've been able to get inside her character.

"I really believe in the play as well – that poor woman has had nobody to help her. Hoarders live in plain sight and that's why Philip wrote this. This show is really relevant, but this time we wanted to have it longer. He's written another 25 minutes' worth, it's more thorough and should be a really entertaining piece. It's ready to go!"

Does the extra material give you the opportunity to explore some of the wider issues at play in Birdy's behaviour?

"There's been a little bit more flesh now, you can see how Birdy gets into these moods. There's more time, so there can be more depth. She knows she's not right, but she doesn't know how to get the help. She'll talk to herself, lose it a bit and then is less prepared to be reasonable. But I think she's trying to let people like social workers know and they're trying to help her but they're so inundated with cases. One of them – Mr Featherstone – who she's talking to, he's never been round yet. All you see is her talking to him on the phone."

Su Pollard in Harpy
Su Pollard in Harpy, Edinburgh Festival 2018
© Karla Gowlett

Do you ever find it hard to step away from the character once you've done your performance?

"No, I leave myself outside the door. As soon as that door opens and I go onto that stage, there is Birdy. As soon as it is shut, Su is back. As much as I love doing this piece, I can't be so immersive – like Daniel Day-Lewis. You have to let it go at some point."

How did you find the Edinburgh Festival, your first time performing there, in 2018?

"The whole process, I was able to embrace it because I knew exactly what was going to happen when. There's a detailed schedule so you more or less knew what you had to do at a certain time. But I wasn't aware of just how near the other theatres were – we were in a converted bank vault and there were all these performing areas. You couldn't concentrate and had nowhere to prepare.

"But I wouldn't say I'd never do it again – I enjoyed it! The audiences liked it and you got to know your fellow performers."

Su Pollard in Harpy
Su Pollard in Harpy, Edinburgh Festival 2018
© Karla Gowlett

Have you got any tips or tricks to learning the monologues?

"The nerve-wracking thing is you've got to cue yourself – you don't get any dialogue from anybody else. You've got to have the confidence that you know it. You've got to know it as well as you possibly can, so you're doing it in your sleep and when you wake up. It's a very different process than having other people around.

"I want to be DLP – dead letter perfect, I was taught that from Jimmy Perry. Philip's so disciplined in his writing, so I make sure not to make things up. Don't add, don't pad.

"Equally as you're going, you can understand what works well – it's a way of telling the story you want to tell in the way the audience will respond to. And you have to feed yourself if you've got a gag, but also differentiate between a stand-up act. You're responsible for everything and that can be daunting – you want to do your very best by the author. It's not a thing to be taken lightly."

You've recently come from panto, it must be an interesting contrast to go into this – from multiple actors in a light-hearted show to just you in a more intense monologue.

"The camaraderie is different – here there'll just be a couple of local crew and the deputy stage manager. It's a totally different approach, much more intense than anything a panto would give you. No glitter, no glasses, hardly any makeup – I'm very much bare.

Harpy plays around the UK from 12 March to 2 May