What A Nurse!

Darlington Civic Theatre favourite Su Pollard is back on the boards next week in her most adventurous role so far, that of Nurse in Romeo And Juliet. She talks to Viv Hardwick about making her Shakespearean debut and a possible return to TV as a hapless private detective.

AT 55, not many actors would be seeking a Shakespeare debut, but Su Pollard is made of sterner stuff and, possibly, at an ideal time in her life to take on the comedic Nurse in Romeo And Juliet. 

The famous Shakespeare play is a rare touring drama in the spring season and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company has recruited a young cast - Jamie Doyle (Romeo) is just out of Rada and his Juliet is Anjali Jay, fresh from the Royal Shakespeare Company's acclaimed Midnight's Children. But ex-Hi-De-Hi favourite Pollard was delighted to test her experience as the Nurse.

She says: "The nurse is not unlike everybody's favourite aunt. She's got that sympathy for Romeo and Juliet and she has a wonderful scene talking about sex. She'd make a wonderfully bawdy boarding house landlady. I last saw one about six months who I called Brenda the blouse, but then again Shakespeare does revel in double entendre himself."

The set, scenery and costume is minimal and Pollard believes this helps rather than hinders the production. "The show is raked in such a way that everyone gets a good view. So I can see why the director (Bill Brydon) wanted that and I think it works well."

As for her first attempt at the Bard's prose, Pollard says it's like learning any other script, but she admits: "It's slightly more flowery because that's what Shakespeare is known for, but I've never had to listen so hard especially when Juliet goes off on one of her soliloquy-thingies. You can't be wondering about having some lasagne for supper that's no good at all."

The play is on the school syllabus this year, so Pollard giggles about the parties of schoolchildren who are attending the run.

"You know what they're like, the young lads and whistling when Romeo takes his shirt off and all the girls are squealing but by the end they are all sniffling and crying because they've run the whole gamut of emotions."

So why hadn't the Bard cropped up for her before? "To be honest I was always working when I was asked to do things like this before which is a great way to turn things down. It never seemed to really come my way. Jenny the producer who I've known on and off for the a few years just came up with this and said 'I'm pretty sure you can do this'. I thought this was a great script and a great part and I thought this would be a really good piece of theatre."

She laughs about herself and veteran actor Gerald Harper (Friar Laurence) being recruited with the remainder of the cast being fresh out of acting school.

They're learning fast and are extremely good. If I get 'aha' in the wrong place you worry about getting the rhythm right because I should have used a 'doth' there. This isn't the kind of text you can get blasť or lazy about.

"When you think about the difference between this and Me And My Girl, Penny Crayon (an animated TV series) and Miss Noisy in The Little Robots it's fantastic. I've been very fortunate in the last five years because I've started to do things like The Pirates Of Penzance and a lot of new challenges have come along."

One of them is the pilot for a new TV series in which Pollard will be part of a useless detective agency which is touting for a spot of BBC or ITV. Then there's her one-woman show on tour, which she promises will be heading to the North-East, and recording another Little Robots series. 

She's off to see former Hi-De-Hi sparring partner Barry Howard when both shows are in Glasgow next month (just before the musical opens at Darlington's Civic). "I think the good shows gravitate towards Darlington because this is one of the most loved venues on tour. I'm already planning my social life around the Italian restaurant next door. And we're going to be a little bit of light relief with all those musicals they've got" she jokes.

In Cardiff, the Romeo And Juliet tour produced a meeting with that other star of Hi-De-Hi Ruth Madoc and the pair went out for a meal after the performance.

"Well the lads in there said 'oh look it's you, come and sit down' and all these great big bouncers, 75 stone man mountains went all soft and asked us to sign their books because their mums loved Hi-De-Hi. That was very sweet."

She puts her popularity down to playing life's underdog. "Look at Eddie The Eagle, bless him we all knew he was hopeless but we were all shouting 'go on mate you can do it'."

And any more ambitions? "What I'd like to do is a little more Shakespeare and, hopefully, a Harry Potter film because my kind of acting lends itself to the world of fantasy. I'd still like to do a duet with Barbra Striesand but that may not be in the pipeline, it's a shame really."

Entertainment North East
March 2006