I’m never going to retire says Regent bound Ha Ha Hood star Su Pollard
Comedy legend Su Pollard talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage about new family show Ha Ha Hood, her career and a lack of good writing
Corpsing, cock-ups, confusion over where she is, who plays who, enemas; I was still laughing long after my chat with Ha Ha Hood Prince of Leaves star Pollard had finished. “I’m in, where are we now... Rhyl tonight. You do (lose track), it’s ridiculous. Two days ago we were only in Shrewsbury but it feels like a week ago.”
The appropriately Nottingham-born actress, famous for sit-coms like Hi-de-Hi and You Rang, M’lord, makes for a perfect menopausal Maid Marian alongside Tommy Cannon, Bobby Ball, writer Ben Langley and Andy Pickering.
Ten years after a messy divorce, Robin and Marian are forced back together to fight the Sheriff of Nottingham who’s just been released from prison.
“They got divorced because it just didn’t work out. Afterwards she thought ‘get a proper job. I don’t want to be with a bloke who wants to live in the forest up a tree’.
She’s now a nurse at the NHS Infirmary in Nottingham and Robin’s decided he doesn’t want to be an outlaw because it’s too much stress,” says Pollard, whose favourite Marian was Patricia Driscoll, who played opposite Richard Greene’s Robin.
“She still has a spark glowing for Robin. They never resolved things between them – you know those terrible divorces where the couples don’t talk things through? There was no marriage guidance back then. Now the Sheriff of Nottingham wants to take revenge by marrying Marian so they’re thrown back together to save the citizens of Nottingham along with Friar Tuck and the Sheriff of Nottingham, no, Little John - I get confused because Tommy plays both parts,” she laughs.
“We have such fun. It’s in-house, we have no dressers, we help each other and it goes really really quickly and I think the show benefits from that. It’s just a fun adventure for two hours.
“It’s going marvellously... There’s something for everybody, a bit of panto, singing, dancing, variety; just really silly stuff. There’s lots of physical humour, lots of slapstick stuff. We have real fun doing it and of course it’s very helpful we get on well together. People are very gracious on stage and we just do the very best we can for each other, this show and the audience.”
She describes her Marian as gutsy and very to the point, who won’t be pushed around by Robin.
“I far prefer playing a character like that to a poor princess who whimpers and simpers all the time. (My) Marian’s very much a role model, very modern for her generation; the great thing is mixing the myth and the legend of medieval England with working in the NHS it’s really weird,” laughs Pollard, following in the footsteps of Audrey Hepburn, Cate Blanchett and Uma Thurman.
“I knew the Ha Ha productions had a fantastic cult following and that creator Ben had a good reputation in the industry. My friend Joe Pasquale, who starred in Ha Ha Holmes! last year, said to me “it’s great fun. You’ll have a fabulous time” so I thought ‘give it a go’. I also really like the way the Ha Ha! brand takes a familiar story or set of characters and puts its own unique stamp on it.
“The ages that come to this show is across the board, you can be as young as seven or as old as 97. We get some poor unsuspecting person who’s the target for the archery practice - I won’t tell you what happens but it’s very funny. It’s a nice little bit of fun the audience can feel they can join in without being humiliated because we don’t believe in that.”
The show reminds me of the family shows I grew up watching.
“There’s nothing nicer than when you get older to be able to say ‘do you remember when we used to go to the theatre with nan and grandad, mum and dad’... It’s lovely to be able to create some family memories.”
Ha Ha Hood marks the first time she’s worked on stage with Cannon and Ball. It’s a lot of fun backstage too.
“Oh yes, it’s marvellous,” she laughs. “Then we travel together in the car so you can imagine, there’s a lot of banter you know but Tommy he’s fabulous, but he’d be the first to tell you he’s a terrible corpser, he’ll laugh at the drop of anything and then can’t get his lines out. I love working with Tommy and Bobby. I’d worked with them a couple of times before on variety shows. They’re such great double act and Bobby teases Tommy all the time.
“We always try to be professional but the audience can see straight away that something might have happened so we might say ‘sorry about that, there was a bit of a cock-up there. Of course the audience love it because they’ve been invited into the joke.”
Despite being beaten by a singing Jack Russell on talent show Opportunity Knocks, she feels very lucky that people have enjoyed what she’s done career-wise.
“It’s funny that because he could have been the one that lasted, fortunately I was able to rise above that slight disaster,” she laughs.
Hi-de-Hi springboarded her career to another level. Even today people come up to her and say “Hi-de-Hi, Su”. Pollard feels the 1970s and 1980s a golden age for the British sitcom.
“Sadly I think the sitcom is fading now due to a lack of good writing. I often think when I’m sent a TV script ‘you’re joking! That was done better 40 years ago. Nowadays we only seem to make reality TV, which everyone is glued to. Everybody just wants to go straight on to The X Factor. We’ve most definitely been dumbed down and it fills me with total dissatisfaction.
“I’ve done some very, very nice things and they linger in your memory. I look back sometimes with affection and say ‘oh, I remember this time 25 years ago I was doing such and such and it’s nice to look back on things that were fortunate enough to achieve’,” says Pollard, who caught the acting bug aged 11.
“My headmistress said to me ‘Su, dear, I realise you have a flair for performing because every day you come in wearing your school coat like an opera cape. You need an outlet’. She sent me along to the Coop Arts Theatre in Nottingham. I had an audition and the director told me ‘oh yes, you’ll be an asset. Welcome’. I immediately thought ‘this is what I want to do forever’.”
The school careers officer wasn’t so sure it was the right choice.
“She said ‘don’t be ridiculous, train to be a chef instead’, but I was not cut out for that. At least the catering industry was spared my culinary disasters.”
Ha Ha Hood and The Prince of Leaves comes to the Ipswich Regent November 11.