Comedy review: Sophie Willan: Branded

Sophie Willan reveals that she turned to escorting for cash. Picture: Contributed
Sophie Willan reveals that she turned to escorting for cash. Picture: Contributed
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Sophie Willan’s ­breakthrough show last year, about her experiences in the care ­system as the daughter of a heroin-addicted mother, brought her a whole new ­following of Radio 4 listeners.

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)


Where once her ­upbringing held her back, now her so-called brand as a northern, working-class woman has various commissioners and the powers-that-be falling over themselves to share her “voice”, even if they’re less enamoured by her personality and the harsh pragmatism of her life decisions to date.

Branding is a ­constricting exercise that smooths rough dissonance, such as her mother being a “vegan smackhead” who couldn’t cook, prompting the comic to marvel at the quirkiness of what this woman would and wouldn’t put into her body.

Such choices, and certain feminist ideals are a luxury, and Willan ­discloses that as a struggling actor unable to find paid work, she turned to escorting. I’d be wary of revealing this as a spoiler. But she’s begun ­talking about it in interviews and though ­shocking, it maybe shouldn’t be as startling as it is, given the economic realities of where she found herself.

In other comic’s shows, a sex work past might form the entirety of the hour. And there are some grim details related but not a little humour too, which ­Willan shares with take-me-as-I-am charm, having unapologetically taken the stage with a twerk and some vigorous “tit shaking” at the front row.

She can’t play the happy hooker though. Blunt and decidedly unsentimental about northern nostalgia, hers is, sad to say, still a rare perspective in comedy, with her background ­seemingly still good for revelations for the cosseted chattering classes, even if she’s ­avowedly wary about being seen as a purveyor of poverty porn.

Emotionally probing and intellectually prodding, with a wry, sardonic delivery, ­Willan is a rather more rounded stand-up than that, undeniably on the rise.

Until 27 August. Today 8pm.