Mark Ludmon reviews Philip Meeks’ new play Harpy starring Su Pollard at Underbelly, Cowgate at Edinburgh Fringe
The cult popularity of 1960s “hag horror” movies, led by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, is part of the inspiration for Harpy, an entertaining and heartwarming new black comedy from Philip Meeks. The gothic horror has been relocated to south London to tell the story of Bridget, known as Birdie, who has turned her house into a nest packed with curiosities from dentures, magazines and mannequin parts to a collection of glass eyes. After the sudden mysterious death of her Auntie Maureen in the attic, Birdie has become a figure of hate to her neighbours and a worry for social services.
As her situation heads towards a crisis, Birdie reveals what turned her into an extreme hoarder, uncovering a dark history of trauma and loss. There is a desperate sadness to the character, who explains that nothing can leave her house as “my things were here for me when everyone else wasn’t”. But thanks to Meeks’ razor-sharp writing, this is a delightful character study, filled with laugh-out-loud humour, celebrating eccentricity, resilience and growing old disgracefully.
Birdie is brought to raucous life by comedy legend Su Pollard who, after 30 years, is still best known as Peggy in Hi-de-Hi. While her performance is short on subtlety, she makes up for it with her charm, big personality and comic brilliance. With a childlike innocence and energy, she skips and dances around the stage, navigating the flotsam and jetsam of her character’s life crammed onto Alex Marker’s set. Directed by Hannah Chissick, the play draws us into Birdie’s delirious life and her “house of horrors”, conjuring up a magical world of shimmering dust, towering walls of newspapers and labyrinthine tunnels where grim secrets and unexpected dangers may be lurking.
Running to 26 August 2018