Emily Pritchard reviews Harpy at the Edinburgh Fringe
In this one-woman show, the audience warm immediately to Birdie (Su Pollard), an energetic, playful old woman, living alone. However, Birdie is a hoarder, and the sense of extremity attached to this permeates the whole play, eventually escalating into an emotional crisis that is painful to watch.
The White Belly stage was the perfect choice for this production, with the curving roof echoing the dimly lit tunnels of Birdie’s home. The set has just enough boxes and bags to create the home of a hoarder, whilst giving Birdie room to move about. At the back, a flight of stairs begins, leading nowhere but successfully suggesting that the chaos expands in all directions.
Birdie’s monologue can seem rambling: day and night, and the variety of characters she takes on, seem to blur together in a confusing way that is almost exhausting to watch. There are plenty of laughs though, and the audience enjoyed bopping along to the 80s music that Birdie raucously sings along to. However, amongst this manic energy, there are moments of stillness, where, lit by cold blue light, Birdie stands at the foot of the stairs, looking up, poised to begin the ascent but never quite taking the first step. In these moments the audience could be felt holding their breath, despite the significance of the attic not yet having been revealed. Although there will definitely be plenty of Su Pollard fans in the audience, Pollard does not at rely on her popularity, but wins over every audience member with this performance, whether or not they are aware of her long career.
Philip Meeks’ script is beautifully written, although there are moments when it verges on spelling out Birdie’s story a little too obviously: “things became the sum total of my own history… evidence I’ve been here”. If all this sounds very grim, be reassured that a new kind of resolution emerges from the depths of crisis: there is a light at the end of this hoarder’s tunnel. What Birdie says about the various objects in her house, the show suggests, can be applied to the wide variety of people society is made up of: “all you’re about to see needs your respect, because it’s important”.
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