ED2014 Comedy ED2014 Interviews ED2014 Week2 Edition

Sophie Willan: Meet the novice detective

By | Published on Thursday 14 August 2014

Sophie Willan

Stand-up Sophie Willan becomes the Novice Detective for Fringe audiences this year as she retells the true story of how she and her “slightly psychic” gran once set out to find her missing father. Detective mac donned, magnifying glass in hand, we sought out the lady herself to find out more.

CC: OK Novice Detective, without giving everything away, tell us a bit about the true story behind this show?
SW: When I was a child my gran and I turned detective to track down my missing father. A series of curious events led to us hunting down a nineties popstar! Whether it was him or not, you’ll have to come to the show to find out.

CC: Why did you decide to turn this story into a show?
SW: This story seemed to be something that friends and colleagues thought I should write as a show. So I did. Simple as that.

CC: How much is fact and how much is fiction?
SW: I’d say it’s 95% true. There are odd details that have been honed to make the show as a whole work; a little poetic/comedic license, you know.

CC: You describe your gran as “slightly psychic”. How slightly? How psychic?
SW: Well, it’s more that she has incredible instincts. And sometimes, she can predict the future. She knew George Michael was gay ten years before he did.

CC: The audience gets involved. What role do they play?
SW: I get the audience involved in different ways, but I pick one audience member at random to play my detective assistant for the duration of the show. This role of side-kick, and the dynamic between them and myself, me as the lead detective, feeds heavily into the narrative and the comedy of the show. This is what makes the show so different, it’s not just audience interaction, it’s audience interaction with a narrative. I’ve performed this show at over 50 venues across the UK and have had all sorts of sidekicks along the way. It really makes the show feel fresh, fun and exciting; not just for the audience but for me too.

CC: How does ‘Novice Detective’ compare to your more conventional stand-up?
SW: Well, for a start it has a narrative. There’s also a set, confetti canons and a wild dance-number-come-lap-dance at the end. Though my stand-up sets are quite alternative they don’t tend to cram all that in!

CC: It’s comedy, but with plenty of theatrical elements. How would you describe it genre wise?
SW: The show is definitely a comedy show but not a generic one. As well as working in comedy, I have a background in theatre, queer cabaret and live art, and this show definitely brings in those influences. In a time when comedy is so over-saturated, I think audiences are really looking for innovative and alternative approaches to comedy, hence the success of big names like Tim Key, The Boy With Tape On His Face, Claudia O’Doherty, Dr Brown and so on. Audiences have really enjoyed the show on the tour, and so far at Edinburgh we have been nearly selling out, and with raucous audiences too, especially for a noon show! Though I’ll admit to a few concerns that my bold move to bring a multi-genre comedy show to my first Fringe could be too much for the reviewers to take. We’ll see what they say soon though!

CC: Do you have any influences when it comes to creating more theatrical comedy?
SW: My influences in performance go far and wide, from Victoria Wood to Bridget Christie, and branching out to the more experimental worlds of live art and cabaret with artists like David Hoyle and Stacy Makishi.

CC: You seem at home in that detective’s mac. Do you anticipate future shows on a sleuthing theme?
SW: No, I don’t think so. I’ve really enjoyed playing around with film noir and trashy afternoon detective spoofery, but I picked it because it genuinely suited the theme of the show. I think backdrops, themes and metaphors in shows have to be very carefully thought out.’

CC: And finally, who is the best detective of them all and why?
SW: I love Jessica Fletcher! There’s just something very calming about her lovely, little owl face. And I like that she does the most ridiculous things to get information; she’s always on a case that leads to her turning up at a hotel or a hospital or something, incognito as her own distant relative from Lancashire. And her interpretation of a Lancashire lass is hilarious, it’s basically Les Dawson, face full of slap, a bonnet and a feather bower in the afternoon. I love the comedy value of that show!

‘Sophie Willan: Novice Detective’ was performed at Zoo at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

LINKS: www.sophiewillan.com

Photo: Kat Gollock