Sophie Willan: Branded

★★★★
comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Sophie Willan
Published 16 Aug 2017

Part of me hopes Sophie Willan never does standup again, if only because what's presented here is an honest account of her life that I'd hate to think she'd ever feel the need to embellish to please the insatiable desires of audiences and critics. Most of me, though, thinks she can crack on. More, please.

Central to Branded is Willan's triple role as a "northern, female, working class" person. She takes pleasure in prodding at the pickles of the mainly southern, male, middle class industry players (and audiences) get themselves into over this: "I daren't tell 'em that everybody in Bradford is eating humous." Then, ever so casually, she drops a bit of a bombshell about her life to date (more of a bombshell than last year's show in which she talked about her heroin addict mother). I only don't spoil it because it's a well-dropped bombshell, which sends ripples around a polite audience as it registers – though I'm conscious that by talking about it in hushed terms I'm repeating precisely the moralising that she picks apart so eloquently.

There's a lot to talk about in terms of Willan's performance. She's a great line-writer ("if it wasn't for penicillin we'd still be in the EU") and draws a nice distinction between those offhand jokes she weaves into her narrative, and those she consciously knocks out as zingers. There's the odd time that feels as if she's delivering lines – they stick out like sore thumbs. But if there's a measure of Willan's skill, though, it's this: every confessional show leavens the emotional end bit with a joke. Willan doesn't. She upsets our expectations, takes us out of our comfort zone, and then just leaves it hanging.