Flo And Joan: Alive On Stage | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Soho Theatre, London
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Flo And Joan: Alive On Stage

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Soho Theatre, London

First impressions of musical comedy sisters Flo and Joan – which may well have been reinforced by those Nationwide building society ads – are of a couple of slightly twee, dinner-cabaret entertainers, twinkling whimsically, but ultimately ineffectively.

However, that’s shattered soon into their opening number which reveals a Minichin-esque twist to their most tricksy lyrics, pinging with smart references and bristling with barbed swipes.

Outlining the sort of undesirables not welcome here they take sideswipes at Brexiteers, Daily Mail readers and the sort of people who might enjoy Mrs Brown’s Boys – the usual bêtes noirs, admittedly, but the targets are hit with lyrical flair.

But while it encourages some us-versus-them tribalism to bind the audience together as nice liberal people, it stops short of the next logical step of acknowledging the totalitarian intolerance for all that fails to be deemed OK.

That’s symptomatic of the Alive On Stage, a show that boasts its fair share of sharp and funny lines as well as a delightful musicality, but doesn’t quite step into killer content, even if the deadpan, medium-fi performance – complete with egg-shaker for percussion – is most definitely their own.

They play up their nerdiness – not least in their last song that proclaims themselves as the epitome of cool, despite the physical evidence they produce to the contrary – but they also tap in the more universal subject of binge drinking, again offering an elegant take on the common trope and eliciting plenty of laughs of shameful recognition.

Responding to the social media messages is a familiar idea, too, and their sardonic responses to the defective men who send them unwanted feedback are certainly deserved, if not rip-roaring. This running theme culminates in a song for a particular troll that is keener to make a point about his blinkered misogyny than get laughs. A track about Doritos’ ridiculous plans to launch a ‘for her’ version of their tortilla chips is funnier, even Bridget Christie has previously staked a strong claim to this territory. 

Speaking of crisp, Flo and Joan are just that in their sharp lyrical delivery as exemplified by their tongue-twister about an outstanding cracker-packer, that the audience – naturally – cannot keep up with.

Other numbers are dedicated to more esoteric subjects as sex robots and an alleged exam failure, this one sung in a pleasing a cappella. A blunt wedding song that emphasises the divorce statistics further displays their cynicism, but it doesn’t have the heartless prosaicism or intricacy of Tim Minchin’s version, if I can make a second reference to the doyen of musical comedy.

It’s a credit to Flo and Joan – in real life Nicola and Rosie Dempsey – that they can be mentioned in the same breath as the maestro and not come off too bad. But they do come off worse.

• Flo and Joan: Alive On Stage is at the Soho Theatre, London, until Saturday and then on tour.

Review date: 14 Nov 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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