I have a confession to make: I love musical theatre. I have another confession: I fear it too. Being a born and bred Wellingtonian, it is built into my very core to fear sincerity. I’ve trained myself to think that there always must be an agenda. This is why I fear musical theatre. If it’s not happy, it’s certainly big and bright, it’s so infectiously large and exuberant.
Musical theatre people, fans or practitioners, can be such a beautifully odd bunch. They are religious zealots whose chapels are theatres and whose robes are sequinned. They glow. It can be quite overwhelming, like staring at the sun.
So, when late last year I was asked to interview Su Pollard (of Hi-de-Hi! fame) about the coming tour of Annie, in which she plays Agatha Hannigan (“I have these fabulous moments where I get to scare the orphans. I’m never afraid to go there because it’s got to be real”), I had to pause for a minute before I said yes. What was I getting myself into?
A lot, it seems, because Ms Pollard is certainly a character. A musical theatre character to be precise. Loud and lovely and totally alive. “All this energy comes because I keep passionate about stuff,” she explained. “I think if you lose your passion and enthusiasm then it’s time to quit.” Judging from the levels of passion and enthusiasm displayed during our interview, Su is a long way off quitting. “I always want to go forward,” she explains.
She speaks at a million miles a minute and is very good at designating things “mega fabulous”. For the first ten minutes or so of the interview, cynical me could see only the media training, the repetition of my name and my question in her answers. She is such a pro. But I was wrong. She wasn’t being cynical. She just cared. She likes making people happy, giving them a good time.
She likes Annie because it’s for all the family, no one excluded, and because “it’s about people’s struggle, everyday struggle. Not to put too much of a drama slant on it. But it’s also about hope.”
There’s a kind of uncomplicated sincerity in Annie — “The sun will come out tomorrow” after all — that is also in Su Pollard, that is also in all of musical theatre. It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you’re use to it, you wonder why the whole world isn’t that way.
Annie runs from 23 May to 8 June at the St James Theatre.