Comedy review: Sophie Willan: On Record

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Sophie Willan’s mother is a heroin addict. As a result, she spent most of her childhood in and out of care.

Rating: ****

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

That period of her life was documented by social services, and Willan has access to her files. Naturally, for her first Edinburgh show, the Bolton-born comedian has decided to share this experience with us.

At this point, you’d be ­forgiven for sighing at the prospect of yet another confessional stand-up show valuing pathos-heavy introspection over actual laughs: the sort of thing that impresses festival judges and broadsheets, while leaving audiences feeling a bit sad but only gently amused.

Well, this isn’t one of those. Not in the slightest. Despite being a relative newcomer, Willan has already mastered the art of turning personal pain into very funny, ­meaningful comedy. Her monologue works because it defiantly avoids self-pity.

Those social work and school reports – which she merrily deconstructs throughout – always wearily noted her defiance. But Willan, a naturally engaging, garrulous comic and storyteller, has found a way of turning those pejoratives into positive attributes.

She can joke about her dysfunctional family, because she obviously loves them. The descriptions of her mother and grandmother are sketched with such vivid specificity of detail – Victoria Wood would approve – you share her affection by the end of the hour.

The image of her terrified mother – a dead-ringer for the aged Iggy Pop – being forced to work at a ­supermarket check-out is one for the ages. There are faltering moments. She hasn’t quite worked out how to ­smoothly segue into the obligatory “serious bit” and we often anticipate the gag while reading her back-projected social work reports. Nevertheless, she nails the correlation between ­poverty, addiction and mental ­illness, but always via bona fide jokes.

A remarkably assured Fringe debut.

• Until 28 August. Today 4:45pm

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