REVIEW: Harpy (Underbelly Cowgate) ★★★★

Being an outspoken woman of a certain age, I was very attracted to this show for two reasons: the name of the play and it starring Su Pollard, who was a childhood heroine of mine, for her brilliant comedic skills in shows such as Hi De Hi and You Rang M’ord. Her talent for timing and tone has always been absolutely bang on and Harpy is no exception.

The play follows the story of Birdie, our central character, who lives alone, surrounded by her myriad collection of ‘rescued’ items that she has hoarded over the years. They surround her so compactly that she often describes herself as having to ‘swim’ through the house, manoeuvring delicately using banisters and furniture to aid her as she swerves through the detritus.

Much of her monologue is directed to her fish tank – whether any fish are actually in the tank is somewhat of a mystery, but through this wonderfully detailed, four dimensional script and characterisation, a brilliantly acerbic woman unfolds, one which I hope that we might all turn into when faced with the frustration of growing older and not really having anything to lose.

Ms Pollard also plays the people that Birdie encounters and I very much enjoy one person shows, with what we in the biz call ‘multi roling’. For Harpy this can sometimes appear slightly uneven – for me, it’s necessary to ensure the switch between each character is defined and slick and the other characters fully realised, so the audience isn’t confused about which character is being presented. However, it is only day three of the festival and with a little bedding in, more confidence and bolder choices, I can see this being executed very well.

Another factor that occasionally misses the mark is the lighting. It’s possible the design is too ambitious for this space; fringe theatre is so often about stripping everything back to basics. It’s a shame, because when the lighting really works –the flashbacks set under the coloured LEDs particularly – it’s marred by the effects that feel a little de trop in the rest of the presentation.

As the story continues we learn about Birdies various misdemeanours, heartbreaks and a history bereft of love, which goes a long way to explain where she is when we meet her. It’s a very sad, very funny existential tale expertly articulated by Philip Meeks.

Ultimately, the thing of joy that holds the show together is Ms Pollard’s consummate performance of Birdie. With the twinkle in her eye, her expert comedy timing, her unique voice and cutting dryness, it’s like watching a master-class in delivery. I’m delighted my childhood heroine is better than ever.

Harpy, by Phillip Meeks at Underbelly Cowgate 4pm.

Reviewed by Lou-Lou Mason

Lou-Lou is a director, copywriter and dramaturg. Her current show Fallout by Serena Haywood, starring Katie Richardson is at Free Fringe: Laughing Horse @ The Phoenix, 2:45 daily).


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