Sophie Willan takes to the stage accompanied by the Pink Panther theme, in a sequence full of inventiveness – including smart opening ‘credits’ and a playful manner. Rightly, she invites us to appreciate her ‘theatrical’ set and her choice of fonts. Willan is warm and funny, has the audience won over in moments, and I was keen to spend time with her.
This show is a personal one, a true story of Willan’s efforts to find her long-lost father. She begins to explain the detail of her quest, gathering evidence like a detective would with her batty gran as sidekick. But almost immediately she veers off on a tangent about something else, and this happens a lot.
Willan brings in audience interaction, whimsical asides and general silliness. These moments aren’t bad, but they feel tonally very different from the deeply personal show that was set up at the start. Time and time again, Willan defuses the tension of her own story, by not actually letting her story feature much in the show.
In one rather wonderful theatrical moment, Willan uses a piece of chiffon to great effect, as she reenacts various versions of a day when she might meet her estranged dad. That shows glimpses of a truly great show, but yet again, Willan breaks her own spell by sidelining what she’s doing for a skit about eulogising an audience member.
It’s such a shame. The premise of the show, Willan herself and the prospect of such a personal story hold tremendous promise – but, for whatever reason, Willan doesn’t seem to want to really tell us her true story. Towards the end, she recounts some encounters with her father’s family that sound momentous, but they are mentioned almost in passing. And the final meeting feels like a footnote.
I came away with the impression that Willan isn’t quite ready to let us near the intensely personal story of her relationship with her father. And while that’s understandable, it’s left us with a show that – while silly and entertaining and fun – feels far away from what it could be.