Su Pollard: Drama Queen

Given her eccentric persona and well-known penchant for outlandish clothing, it's not surprising that Su Pollard is in her element when camping it up in full panto garb. This year is no exception - Sally Oldaker meets her as she prepares to play the Wicked Queen in Malvern Theatres' festive extravaganza, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Dressed in a typically flamboyant costume and with her trademark giant glasses present and correct, Su seems to be thoroughly enjoying herself and embracing the pantomime spirit, regardless of the fact that show's launch is actually taking place in August and Christmas still seems a long way off. This will be the third time she has played this particular role, which she describes as a "marvellous" part.

"I love playing the villain - and I love being booed as loudly as possible, because then I know I'm doing a good job!" she grins. "It's especially fun when the school parties come and the kids have permission to be as noisy as they like for a change."

As one of the nation's favourite entertainers, Su has appeared in a vast number of pantomimes, although the roles have changed over the years: "I used to be cast as principal boy in pantos, but when you reach a certain maturity, you have to let the bright young things take over to play the princes and princesses!" she says. "I don't dash about on stage quite as much these days, but I use my energy in a different way."

She says panto is one of her favourite genres, but points out that people should not underestimate the amount of work and stamina necessary for the heavy schedule - Snow White will see the cast performing twice a day for the best part of a month. "Panto is not to be taken lightly - it's not a walk in the park! It's important to give the audience real value for money. For many of the children, it will the first time they have been to a theatre, so I want their experience to be really positive."

Su is one of those rare performers who has always appealed to both adults and children, making her perfect for panto with its jokes aimed at all ages. Older audiences recall her most famous roles in comedy series Hi De Hi and You Rang M'Lord?, but she is also familiar to younger TV viewers, having voiced a number of popular children's programmes such as Penny Crayon, Jackanory and - more recently - Little Robots.

"I'm happy to be involved with anything, as long as it's good," she says frankly. "I have to remember that my performances will stick with me for the rest of my life!" Happily, there have been many more hits than misses in a showbiz career spanning three decades. Su's love of acting began when she played an angel in a school nativity play at the age of six - and she also discovered how to get a laugh from the audience when she fell through the box she was standing on!

She later joined her local Nottingham Arts Theatre, where she was encouraged to learn about all aspects of the stage, and at the age of 16 began singing in charity shows and working men's clubs. Su's TV debut was her 1974 appearance on Opportunity Knocks, in which she was unfortunately denied first place by a singing dog. Never one to be put off by such outrageous fortune, she was soon winning parts in stage musicals from Grease to Godspell.

Her first comedy role was in the BBC's Two Up, Two Down, where she had ample opportunity to indulge her wacky dress sense as hippy squatter Flo. However, it was of course the immensely popular Hi De Hi that made Su a household name. Is she fed up with people still thinking of her as Peggy?

"Not at all - it doesn't get on my nerves even now," she maintains. "The series was quality stuff, with great writers and producers, which is why it's still so popular. We all had tremendous fun, and I even still have my costume; I've kept it all these years!"

It's a good thing Su looks back on the role with such fondness, as the Hi De Hi phenomenon - which also spawned a musical stage version - shows no signs of fading. The series has recently been repeated on UKGold, introducing a whole new generation to Peggy and the gang, and a full-scale reunion is scheduled for October, marking 20 years since the last episodes were filmed.

"There's also going to be a televised reunion on the Paul O'Grady Show," Su reveals. "Paul's a massive Hi De Hi fan!"

Throughout her career, Su has successfully combined TV and theatre work, guest starring on countless light entertainment shows and taking part in no less than five Royal Variety Galas. On stage, she has appeared in plays as diverse as Abigail's Party, Romeo & Juliet and the Vagina Monologues, and recently completed a six-month West End run of Menopause The Musical, a tale of four women of a certain age who meet when they fight over a bra in Marks & Spencer.

"Menopause was thoroughly entertaining - the women in the audience really identified with the characters and their hormones," Su explains. "When we saw them laughing and crying, we felt we'd given a sense of empowerment to women who are going through a rotten time in their lives. Plus, it's very funny - all the songs are classic hits rewritten to relate to the menopause!"

It's not too much of a leap to suggest that Snow White itself contains themes of female empowerment: the megalomaniac Queen - far more intimidating than any male tyrant - with her determination to hang on to power, and the heroine adapting to changed circumstances and forging her own life (albeit doing housework for a pack of blokes and eventually getting hitched) But, cod psychology aside, the Christmas panto is all about being daft and having fun - and that's what Su does best. She clearly loves every minute of performing, and if the Malvern audience enjoy the show half as much as she will, they're in for a treat.

Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs runs from Friday December 14 to Sunday January 6 - book now on 01684 892277.

Meet the cast Also appearing in Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs - as Muddles the Jester - is Andrew Agnew, better known as PC Plum from Balamory. He describes the hugely popular BBC show as the perfect training for panto: "Many of the scenes were unrehearsed, and we really had to interact with the children. You can't kid kids - they will let you know if you're not doing a good job!"

Andrew is no stranger to panto, having played a variety of parts (including the dame) as well as many other acting roles. Although Balamory is no longer being filmed, he will soon be touring the UK with the CBeebies Live show, and has also turned his hand to directing with Me Too!, the latest from the Balamory stable.

Snow White herself is played by the beautiful Danielle Corlass, whose musical credentials encompass Grease, the Rocky Horror Show and 42nd Street. "Acting has been my dream since I was a little girl - I can't imagine doing anything else!" she says. Her suitor is played by Simon Leigh, who is obviously the go-to guy for panto producers in search of a prince, having played this part no less than eight times in a career encompassing extensive theatre and cabaret work.

The crucial role of the woodcutter who cannot bring himself to murder Snow White is played by Timothy Morand, whose TV credits include Secret Army - he also appeared in the classic film A Bridge Too Far.

Limited Edition
November 2007