Pros: The topic is relevant for a diverse audience.
Cons: The venue might have been better suited to the intimate nature of this play.
Old age is a scary beast. Scary for those who approach it – as it carries uncertainty – and scary for those who watch it from a distance, because it’s hard to understand. So is Birdie (Su Pollard) scary, because nobody wants to get close to her. They prefer to observe her from a distance, like some sort of mythological creature. Like a harpy.
In reality, she’s just an old lady who lives on her own and has no friends or family. Nobody in the neighbourhood knows her personally, but they call her a harpy, a harridan, and report her to the social services for listening to loud music in the dead of night. In a way, she’s proud of her reputation and giggles at the idea that her presence can make people so uncomfortable.
After the death of her housebound auntie Maureen, Birdie can still hear her voice around the house and often the pair have long conversations. If her auntie is not around, her dead goldfish is also a favourite companion for a good natter.
Throughout her life she’s been collecting piles of stuff, unable to dispose of anything she owns. The set itself is stacked with phone directories, boxes, odd pieces of furniture, clothing and all sorts of trinkets, crammed under the staircase and everywhere in the room. When she was young, before moving in with her auntie Maureen, she lost the most important thing she’d ever owned and, ever since, she hasn’t been able to dispose of anything else, clinging on to objects as if they could fill that empty space inside her.
Memories from those years gradually unravel in her erratic monologue and, through Pollard’s husky voice, a pleasantly diverse audience learns about love and loss, loneliness and mental illness. Sadly, the White Belly’s wide space affects the performance, forcing the actor almost to shout for her lines to reach the back rows. Unable to build a proper connection with the audience, this intimate and urgent piece can’t be delivered as it deserves and, somehow, feels too distant.
Author: Philip Meeks
Director: Hannah Chissick
Producer: Suzanna Rosenthal for Something for the Weekend
Box Office: 0131 510 0395
Booking Link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/harpy
Booking Until: 26 August 2018