Flo & Joan: Sweet Release | Melbourne International Comedy Festival review
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Flo & Joan: Sweet Release

Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

With their tight, dense lyrics, catchy melodies and witty banter, singing sisters Flo & Joan are clear crowd favourites, with a loud and long ovation filling the Spiegeltent at the end of their lively hour.

As their career has grown, so too has their confidence, ditching much of their early deadpan which played up the awkwardness of their interactions. 

You still wouldn’t call keyboardist Nicola Dempsey a livewire, but she’s more certain in her reticence; while singer and oft-time percussionist Rosie is more showy, even channeling the likes of Dolly Parton or 1970s disco queens. Their banter is more playful, drawing on the unique chemistry and shared references only siblings can have, while their growing assurance even has them dabbling in crowd work, though it’s not their strongest suit.

But while their professionalism on stage grows, they also offer a glimpse behind the spangly curtain to the grim realities of touring, with a memorable image of the bleak post-gig reality in their twin Travelodge room. Their shared nightmare is to be so entwined that they will enter their long-off dotage as spinster sisters, with all the baggage that entails.

A glimpse at their possible future comes via their mother, and a particularly hideous pieces of porcelain that she prizes – and which proves a quirky through-line in this meticulously constructed show, full of concealed callbacks. We also step backwards in time to learn about the pair’s first forays into musical theatre, courtesy of the school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. 

Their attempts to avoid singledom take them into the ‘dehumanising’ world of dating, and while the topic is probably inevitable, they manage to avoid cliché while remaining relatable. Except for when they are singing about their alien boyfriend hitting it off with the microwave, obviously.

Friends you don’t really like is another topic everyone can identify with; while at least half the audience will recognise the lyrics about feeling unsafe while walking home at night. The melody remains jaunty but what the song calls to mind is dark indeed, abandoning their usually lively humour to drive home a message that bears repeating. There are frequent bites of hard reality across the show, helping to counter any risk of slipping into twee whimsy, but this is the only time the witty, tricksy lyrics go all-in on a serious topic. 

One of the funniest numbers is essentially a slapstick routine, while longer songs are sparing cut with quickies, getting a joke in and out in a rhythmic couplet, with the bluntness of the ditty getting a laugh in itself. It all adds variety to a hugely entertaining show.

• Flo & Joan: Sweet Release is at The Famous Spiegeltent at Arts Centre Melbourne at 8pm until April 24 (7pm Sundays, no show Monday) then they resume their UK tour on April 30. Flo & Joan UK tour dates

Review date: 12 Apr 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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