Sophie Willan: Novice Detective

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (comedy): Sophie Willan: Novice Detective at Zoo Aviary (venue 124). Review by Martin Gray

In a darkened room, two trenchcoats and matching trilbies hang on a coatrack. The theme tune from Mike Hammer alternates with a skewed take on Murder She Wrote. A glamorous dame appears, stalking the stage. The music stops, she opens her mouth… and a thick Lancashire accent fills the air.

For Sophie Willan is a Bolton girl, one in love with telly detectives. It’s a passion she inherited from her “slightly psychic” grandmother, and one that’s fed her search for the father she never knew. Yes, like Scooby-Doo, she’s got a mystery to solve, and her Shaggy is audience member Edmund, whom she decides to call Frank – it’s more “detectivey”. The pair don the hats and coats and the show gets under way.

There follows an energetic hour as Willan slowly unravels an apparently true story whose twists and turns I shan’t spoil. Willan is great comedic company, a bundle of energy able to forge an easy empathy with the audience and with her double act assistant “Frank”. She has her script and props – clues are scattered throughout the theatre – but Willans also has the quick-ranging mind perfect for dealing with the unexpected. She’s naturally funny and the audience loves her for it.

As it turns out, Willans and her absent gran really were detectives, solving the riddle of the dad who disappeared from little Sophie’s life. Solid facts make for a satisfying end to a novel show with lots of laughs – and that something extra that should make for a big Fringe hit. Willan is far from clueless.

Until 25 August. Today 12:15pm, more info

Originally published in The Scotsman

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