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Flo & Joan: The Kindness of Stranglers review

| Comedy, Music | 31/08/2017


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Flo & Joan have the world of musical comedy at their feet after this faultlessly entertaining show.

Musical comedy duo Flo & Joan attracted quite a buzz ahead of the Fringe.  This wasn’t due to the title of their new song, Save The Bees, but because many saw comparisons to the fantastic Flight of the Conchords.  On the evidence of this faultless, enjoyable show, The Kindness of Strangers, the buzz was entirely justified.  English sisters Nicola and Rosie Dempsey – recently returned from Canada and signed to Avalon – have some great years ahead of them.

Their set of comedy songs works so well for two reasons.  First, the lyrics are tightly written, stuffing a huge amount of gags, verbal dexterity and whimsy into each sentence.  And second, despite the fact they spend virtually the entire show sat behind their instruments, Flo & Joan (named after their elderly relatives) pack a lot of personality into their exchanges –  even though, like McKenzie and Clement before them, neither appear naturally convivial.

Nicola, the pint-sized pianist, leads with her control of the keyboard, harsh stare, pursed-lipped smile and sharp put-downs – the best being when she deals with unwanted male attention by announcing she’s twelve.  Percussionist Rosie is blonde, taller, more relaxed and kinder than her sister when spitballing ways to euthanase each other.  These extremes play well in certain songs, but for the rest of the time the pair work as one, invariably singing together and making it hard to detect who’s claiming the higher notes and punchlines.  This egalitarian approach also makes some of their serious points more powerfully – not least in the 70s-style lovesong which ends unexpectedly thanks to Brexit.

Musical comedy isn’t to everyone’s taste, but – like Flight of the Conchords – Flo & Joan’s creations are so varied stylistically that it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying at least a few of them.  Some might prefer the jaunty Victoria Wood influence in Still a Big Mac and Save The Bees; others will favour the ironic R&B inspired My Body or a cappella Dave, in which the duo display their vocal range and impressive rap speed respectively.

A personal favourite was their pastiche of an old English folk song, The Lady in the Woods, which builds as facts are revealed and incorporated into the mythical lady’s alliterative description: “Another thing about Linda was that she really liked reptiles … so, she was Linda the long-haired, legless, lizard-loving Lady in the Woods”.  Intelligently, this creates two laughs: the first as the audience tries to guess how Flo & Joan will make the factual reveal begin with an ‘L’; and the second when the lyric is eventually sung.  Simple, but so effective.

The talented pair released an album of mainly older tunes, Victory Flaps, earlier in the year and after this brilliant set further recordings are likely to follow.  However, it’s hard to imagine a better format than seeing Flo & Joan perform live, so take the opportunity while you can.

Flo & Joan performed ‘The Kindness of Stranglers’ at the Edinburgh Fringe during August at Just the Tonic @ The Tron.  See their official Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @floandjoan for details of their next London shows, including one at Brasserie Zédel on 22nd September (tickets here).

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