Review: Sophie Willan, Branded, York Theatre Royal Studio

IN a nutshell, Sophie Willan is a northern working-class comic who doesn't hold truck with being branded a northern, working-class comic.

That makes the job of a reviewer a tad more difficult as by definition the role involves description, definition, precise detail and connection points with the reader, and yes, Sophie Willan is northern – she is from Bolton – and working class – she had a tough upbringing – and, yes, she is funny. Very funny. Smart, clever, frank and fearless too, and now she has as many "middle-class" tropes as working-class ones.

As Willan recalls, one early reviewer had called her "cleverer than she first looks", and she certainly plays initially on coming over as sweary, earthy and gobby, bouncing on stage to shake her cleavage up close, in the front row's personal space. From then on, however, her comedy is not "in yer face"; it is more subtle in its structure, mood shifts and gear changes, conversational in manner, but deceptively so because she is then all the more liable to pull the carpet from under your feet.

Willan's set is peppered with revelations: she was born to teenage parents; her mother's heroin addict meant she spent much of her childhood in the social care system; late on in the hour-long show we learn she worked as an escort girl. She doesn't discuss these matters in the comedic equivalent of tabloid sensationalist headlines; instead she is thoughtful. The effect is to make you think again, to question your parameters of being judgemental, to wonder why we are so quick to brand.

Charles Hutchinson