Tonight Side by Side by Sondheim opens tonight at the Brockley Jack studio theatre, without Su Pollard. According to the email sent to reviewers five days ago, she would not be headlining the show due to ‘a sudden indisposition’. Whether that was an illness, or an indisposition to learn the words and music in time wasn’t explained: Brockley executive producer Karl Swinyard said the show’s production team hadn’t been any more forthcoming. Tickets were refunded for anyone who had planned a pilgrimage to Brockley specifically to see Pollard, and her place is taken by Sarah Redmond, who recently played the show in Singapore.
So it was something of a surprise to see Su hale and hearty at last night’s opening of Dusty and to ask whether she was still poorly. “Is that what they said?” she laughed, “no, darling, it was the foot acting!” explaining that while she found the orchestrations by SBS original cast member Stuart Pedlar and the harmonies ‘just brilliant’, director and 2015 Mountview graduate Elliot Clay wanted to stage the show much more choreographically than previous productions and she felt she couldn’t keep pace with energetic dance routines while maintaining careful delivery of Sondheim’s technically complex songs – “I mean” she said “single time steps, double time steps every two minutes – Millie Martin never had to do that!”
I asked what had been her favourite number before, with obvious reluctance, she left the show and she gave us a perfectly clear and up-to-speed snatch of ‘Not Getting Married Today’. It was excellent, her singing voice is nothing like her spoken affectionate Northern-inflected conversational camp. Although obviously a resilient personality, she sounded sad for a second.
Which is a shame. Stuck in bed for few days recently, I watched the entire canon of Hi-de-Hi and marvelled not just at Pollard’s famous clowning but at her ability to maintain the one characteristic of Peggy Ollerenshaw’s constant ambition and repeated failure to become a Yellowcoat with infinite variety and remarkable subtlety across nine years of filming. Hi-de-Hi’s success meant she was forever pigeonholed as the loud, daft girl and not offered roles which were much different. You’d hope casting directors could see past her deliberately bright public persona and the outrageous parrot-coloured outfits she wears even to Sainsbury’s.
Perhaps there’s a shortsightedness in the Side by Side production team at Brockley, because if someone had taken her, and dressed her, more seriously, she might have been a surprising success.
Maybe they should have sent in the clown after all.
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