A presence on, and off the stage

Actress Sue Pollard who will be starring in the production of Annie at the Sunderland Empire in November
Actress Sue Pollard who will be starring in the production of Annie at the Sunderland Empire in November
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Fabulously eccentric and a talented actress to boot, Su Pollard is an unforgettable addition to any show. Katy Wheeler met up with the star of stage and screen at the Sunderland Empire to talk cat wee, orphans and witchetty grubs.

THERE’S no missing Su Pollard in a room.

Dressed in pink and black-striped tights and more accessories than you can shake a stick at, Su was as gloriously unique as I’d hoped she’d be when I met up with her at the Sunderland Empire.

She was there to promote her role as Miss Hannigan in Annie when the show comes to High Street West theatre at the end of this month.

I was eager to meet the voice behind one of my all- time favourite TV characters – Penny Crayon.

It’s one of many roles Su’s made her own in a career that has spanned the decades, from her umpteen stage roles to iconic TV characters such as Peggy in Hi-De-Hi and Ivy Teasdale in You Rang, M’Lord.

Speaking about the cartoon role of Penny Crayon, which ran from 1989 to 1990, Su said: “When they said to me do you fancy being the voice of this character who draws things and they come to life? I didn’t know what to think.

“So many people have a soft spot for Penny Crayon though. We only did three series, unfortunately, before budgets disabled the show.”

Su is one of the most effervescent interviewees I’ve ever spoken to: full of life and passion for her craft.

As such, she always manages to bring some of her own inimitable character to the roles she plays.

“My thing has always been to only do shows that are good quality, people remember Penny Crayon because it was good quality, they spent money on it,” she said.

“I want to do good stuff so that I can look back on my career and know I haven’t done anything naff.

“I’ve been offered some rubbish. I won’t eat grubs in the jungle (a reference to I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here), I get offered that every year, but I always turn it down. I’m too much of a wimp. I’d starve in the jungle.

“It’s so difficult to choose a favourite role. Peggy was a great character. I’ve liked every character I’ve played. I have to find something I like about them in order to do the best job I can with it.”

Su, like me, has a soft spot for her current role of Miss Hannigan in Annie.

I saw her in the role when the show last came to the Empire and she was superb: a panto-esque baddie that you just love to hate.

Su said: “It’s the fifth time with the tour now. I like doing it, often I get asked to do things that aren’t as good as Annie. But I know this is a good part and a feel-good show.

“I get the chance to sing, act and entertain, I feel really comfortable as Miss Hannigan. People say she is mean-spirited, but her life is not as she wanted it to be.

“She’s lonely and doesn’t see any male company apart from Bundles (the laundry man) so she’s always grabbing him.

“She only wants to be loved.

“I like her a lot.”

The comedy actress will share the stage with youngsters from the Northern Star Theatre Arts School based at Sunderland High School, who will play her brood of orphans.

She said: “We have different orphans from local stage schools and I have to say to them not to be scared of me. I have to act like Miss Hannigan, but I have to tell them it’s only acting.

“The kids who do it love it. You can see them blossom in the show and it gives them such confidence.”

The Empire leg of the tour is a return to an old stomping ground for Su, who has appeared at the theatre many times in her long career.

Though she must have played at almost every theatre in the country at some point, she says the Empire sticks out for her.

“My first time at the Sunderland Empire was about 35 years ago when I came with Godspell,” she explained. “It was ever so funny, they had a theatre cat back then who would catch the rats.

“But he only went and weed in my suitcase. Oh, it was a terrible smell and was over all my clothes.

“Another time I came here a washing machine flooded and went through three floors into my changing room. I have fond memories of Sunderland though, it’s a great place.

“The people are so lovely, I love to come here because you get a great welcome, the people are always so pleased to see you.

“I love London because it’s been really good to me in my career, but I love touring because I get to come to places like Sunderland, it’s the best of both worlds.”

l Annie is at the Sunderland Empire from November 29 to December 3. Tickets costing £11.50-£28.50 are available from 0844 871 3022 and www.SunderlandEmpire.org.uk