• Fri. Oct 22nd, 2021

Dark comedy by Sophie Willan follows woman who becomes an escort

Sep 16, 2021

The VERY dark BBC sitcom that  normalises drug use and prostitution: Alma’s Not Normal based on comedian Sophie Willan’s own life follows escort, her drug dealer ex and heroin addict mum (but it’s a hit with viewers)

  • Comedian Sophie Willan wrote the semi-autobiographical sitcom set in Bolton
  • Plays Alma whose heroin addict mother, Siobhan Finneran, has been sectioned
  • Character becomes escort after her boyfriend gets a younger woman pregnant 
  • Viewers enjoyed show but admitted that it delves into ‘bleak’ subject matters

A new BBC comedy that normalises prostitution and drug use, and is littered with sex scenes and swearing, has become a huge hit with TV fans, despite the extreme subject matter.

The six-part BBC Two series, which premiered on Monday, makes light of hard-hitting issues faced by protagonist Alma (Sophie Willan) such as mental health, addiction and sex work. 

It follows Alma as she navigates her way through a break up with her drug dealer boyfriend who paid her rent, and visits with her heroin-addicted mum (Siobhan Finneran), who has been sectioned for arson. 

The semi-autobiographical series, set in Willan’s hometown of Bolton, was penned by the comedian and has won praise from viewers who say that they enjoyed the show despite it’s ‘bleak subject matter’. 

Alma’s Not Norma follows the titular character, played by Sophie Willan (pictured in the BBC Two drama) as she navigates her way through a break up with her drug dealer boyfriend and her heroin-addicted mum sectioned for arson

Alma’s heroin-addicted mum (Siobhan Finneran, pictured) has been sectioned for arson and her daughter regularly pays her visits 

Adapted from Willan’s award-winning stage show, the pilot episode of the sitcom bagged a BAFTA Award last year. 

Sophie is a writer, actor and comedian – having won various awards for her standup – and in 2016 took her debut stand up show based on her experiences of growing up in and out of the care system, as well as her mother’s mental health issues and working as an escort, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

The new series begins with aspiring actress Alma cycling to the job centre, where she says that she has no qualifications or experience, but does have plenty of ‘pizazz’. 

She compares the first seven years of her life, living with her drug addict mother and not attending school, to the baby from Trainspotting if she’d lived’.  

Her no-nonsense best friend Leanne (Jayde Adams, pictured) has the ‘mannerisms of a truck driver and the rock and roll sex appeal of Debbie Harry’

Ben Willbond also features in the series, as a besotted client who has sex with Alma in a swanky hotel before asking if he can book her every night of the week

Alma, who routinely dresses in garish pink fur coats, is left devastated when her boyfriend, a taxi driver who moonlights as a drug dealer, leaves her for a younger woman.  

She regularly visits her grandmother Joan (Lorraine Ashbourne), a ‘silk cut smoking, vodka drinking animal print loving whirlwind’, who charges her 80p for a cigarette. 

Her no-nonsense best friend Leanne (Jayde Adams) has the ‘mannerisms of a truck driver and the rock and roll sex appeal of Debbie Harry’.

The show is based on the real-life experiences of comedia Sophie Wilan (pictured attending The South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2018). She’s compared the first seven years of her life, living with her drug addict mother and not attending school, to the baby from Trainspotting if she’d lived’

Despite a frank telling off from her pal, Alma soon sleeps with her ex, who pays her £500 to leave before his new girlfriend gets home. 

In the episode she convinces her grandmother to visit her mum for the first time in five years. Her mum had been admitted to a psyche ward after habitually setting fires due to drug-induced psychosis.   

Faced with a job as a ‘sandwich artist’ at a local deli, and after hearing a tale of a pal who earned £250 an hour and managed to buy a flat with a garage in Wales after taking up escorting, Alma becomes a prostitute.  

Her mum, played by Siobhan Finneran, had been admitted to a psyche ward after habitually setting fires due to drug induced psychosis

In one episode she convinces her grandmother Joan (Lorraine Ashbourne, pictured) to visit her mum for the first time in five years. She later goes to dinner with her daughter and her partner Jim (Nicolas Asbury) 

Ben Willbond also features in the series, as a besotted client who has sex with Alma in a swanky hotel before asking if he can book her every night of the week.

In one harrowing scene, where prostitutes take drugs and party with a group of men, Alma becomes uncomfortable when her client tries to short change her, before trying to have unprotected sex and becoming aggressive. 

When another man refused to pay one of the prostitutes before sex, the situation turned violent and one of the men pinned a sex worker to the wall by her throat. Alma promptly kicked him in the crotch and ran away.  

Speaking on Women’s Hour, she said that Alma is either ‘very optimistic or deluded’ and that ‘she’s full of life, full of joy, and has an idea of herself that is beyond her current situation.’  

Sophie says her character navigates her way through a family of ‘eccentric family of complicated women’ and said that while element are fictional, some experiences have been drawn from her life.

Faced with a job as a ‘sandwich artist’ at a local deli, Alma goes to various auditions to try and forge a career as an actress  

After hearing a tale of a pal who earned £250 an hour and managed to buy a flat with a garage in Wales after taking up escorting, Alma becomes a prostitute. She’s pictured with her employer Ray Ray (Thanyia Moore)

‘Quite a bit of it is drawn on my personal experiences’, said Sophie. ‘But there is a joy in doing something fictional, it’s refreshing.

‘She’s a different age to me, her experiences are slightly different which just opens things up, you don’t have to feel stuck with your own experiences.’ 

In the first episode it is revealed that Alma was expelled from school for turning up drunk wearing a bikini – something Sophie said really happened. 

‘I’ve still got the letter from my headmaster’, she said. ‘He sent me a letter just sent me a letter saying “Sophie regularly arrives at school in non uniform, and then it says in brackets, bikini on one occasion”. 

Fans have been hooked by the show despite it’s dark subject matter, with one writing: ‘Have to say I rather enjoyed Alma’s Not Normal. Great cast and some of the best swearing I’ve heard in ages!’.

‘Watched the first two episodes of Alma’s Not Normal last night and implore you to go watch it (the whole season is on IPlayer). It’s dark, it’s funny and it’s NORTHERN’, wrote another.

A third said: ‘Alma’s Not Normal is so funny I forget how bleak the subject matter is’. 

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