Nasty Piece Of Work 

Su Pollard seems to be ignoring all advice in her role in the hit musical Annie. Not only is she working with animals, but with children, too. And, she tells Steve Pratt, she's loving it.

You'd think Su Pollard would know better than to share the spotlight with a dog after her humiliating experience on Opportunity Knocks. 

When she made her TV debut on the TV talent show, she came second to a singing Jack Russell terrier.

Now, the star of Hi-De-Hi is appearing with not one, but two canine co-stars in a touring production of the hit musical Annie.

Not only is she ignoring advice given to actors against appearing with animals, but is also treading the boards with a troupe of young performers playing orphans.

She admits that the memory of the OpKnocks mutt is never far from her mind, but says that Danny - who plays Sandy in the show - is "a beautiful dog" and more than capable of stealing scenes. "At one point, he gets the stage to himself and has to walk from one side to the other looking forlorn and sad," she says.

She talks fondly too of the other four-legged performer Sparky, who also has a key role in the show. Both dogs belong to "the lovely Rita". The canine co-stars are the same ones that accompanied her on the first tour of Annie. "They're well used to it. They're very professional," she says.

Pollard, who plays horrid orphanage head Miss Hannigan, is equally complimentary about her young co-stars, who are recruited locally at each venue.

"I do like kids. I've never really wanted any of my own, but I like working with them," she says. "They are really enthusiastic. Every week we have different orphans. It's lovely to see their little faces and they learn from you.

"We have this bible so every week we know exactly what we have to tell the children, and it makes it a little bit easier. You get some children that are great actors, and another week ones that are fantastic dancers. Either way, they are all very sweet.

"And, of course, they sell millions of tickets because all their aunties and uncles come to see them. Last week one of them brought 80 school friends."

Pollard had no hesitation returning as Miss Hannigan because she loved doing the tour the first time round. The show's a feelgood one and that feeling spreads among the cast and audience. 

"It's not gloom and doom," she says. "You can see people stand up and go mad because they've had a great night. I know it's a cliché but they can share in that. Mothers and grannies aren't frightened to bring their kids."

Most of the cast, which also includes Mark Wynter as Daddy Warbucks and Louise English as Grace Farrell, were in the tour with Pollard last time. Halfway through the latest 12-week tour, she says she could go on doing the show for another five years.

The Billingham theatre's brochure refers to Pollard as "the Forum's favourite" and she's looking forward to returning to the venue. She likes the intimacy of the theatre, the nice dressing rooms and hopes I'll mention that she'd like them to keep the bar open after the show.

"You always get a fabulous audience, and there's a fabulous sandwich shop where I remember having a great pork sandwich with stuffing."

This Christmas she'll be back in pantomime, playing the Wicked Queen in Snow White And the Seven Dwarfs in Reading. What with that and Miss Hannigan, she's clearly entering the nasty phase of her career.

"Someone said to me, 'you've gone a bit evil, haven't you?'," she says. "After nearly 30 years of being principal boy, it's time to do something a little bit more mature. I love it because I get to wear a fabulous, glamorous kind of bejewelled head-dress and a beautiful cloak."

There doesn't seem anything coming her way on TV to equal the high spots of Hi-De-Hi and You Rang, M'Lord. "I get asked to do TV but it's these young researchers who want to put me in a cage and cover me in gunk a la Tiswas," she says.

"I was offered a couple of things but they clashed with the theatre dates. I'm just waiting for a good script."

By Steve Pratt

Entertainment North East
October 2003