Welcome to an exciting new force in British standup!
This year has cemented mental health as a major theme of the Fringe in recent years. Few shows on the subject will be better than debutant Sophie Willan’s, though. Her tale of being brought up by a heroin addict, and a life lived under the constant watch of social services, not to mention an abusive relationship and a foster family, can’t fail to stand out.
But you can’t just turn up and tell all, and Willan has successfully taken all these elements and created a complete comedy show – her experience as a theatre-maker coming into excellent use. Unlike most debut comics, she appears to have arrived full formed, as a talented storyteller, joke writer and performer. What I like most is her style: she’s charming and chatty, with hints of Lancastrian whimsy – but my word there’s a deliciously cruel streak. She actually reminds me of my cat: charm, swipe, charm.
Willian shows us actual records that social services kept on her. It feels like an illicit acts seeing this stuff. Is this even allowed? She even delights in filling in some of the “redacted” information, and the disturbing pictures she paints of being brought up in squalor and debauchery are very funny indeed. The furious, gurning impressions of her own mum (now apparently toothless and resembling Iggy Pop) are especially memorable in both their humour and shock value. She’s a natural-born piss-taker.
She also provides us with plenty of food for thought. I think she is spot on about how mental health and poverty can become runaway trains in any given family, and one incident of Willan telling her school friend about sex is a real eye-opener about how children can get stigmatised.
Oddly enough the show started quite slowly. It was funny from the off, but only quite funny. It got stronger, juicier, and more laugh-out-loud as it went along. It’s rare that I say this but I could have happily had another 10 minutes.
Review by Paul Fleckney