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Flo & Joan’s Sweet Release at Bloomsbury Theatre

Flo & Joan, or Nicola and Rosie Dempsey, as they are ‘properly’ known, have gained something of a cult following. Well, at least it felt that way – the Bloomsbury Theatre audience cheered whenever they announced they were about to do a song featured in one of their previous shows. They knew the words and were able to keep up with a tongue-twisting patter song about a woman who worked for a cracker manufacturer: Carol, the cracker packer who packs a cracking pack of crackers. Or something like that.

Flo & Joan’s Sweet Release - Photo by Matt Crockett.
Flo & Joan’s Sweet Release – Photo by Matt Crockett.

Not that the uninitiated, like me, were ever left wondering what on earth was going on. It’s not difficult to follow a musical comedy act that explores topics such as household ornaments and online dating. That said, the songs were often witty, rapid and dense, and a couple managed to be all three despite consisting of one or two lines. A long, jaunty intro was followed with the sole lyric: “If you’re happy and you know it / You’re lying to yourself”.

Flo deploys a borderline Jack Dee level of deadpan humour at the keyboard, leaving Joan on percussion to be the one bouncing around the stage, doing that thing that happens at comedy gigs when people in the front row get asked who they are and what they do for a living. Also in common with a lot of contemporary comedy, the show covered in some detail whatever it is that Flo & Joan don’t like. Take, for instance, descendants of rich people who aren’t using their wealth in a way that is of optimum benefit to themselves let alone anyone else. Then there are the attendees at Downing Street garden parties (or delegates to Downing Street meetings) in lockdown, doing things the rest of us simply would not get away with.

While Joan would be satisfied with carrying on with comedy gigs for years to come, Flo isn’t so sure, and there’s a whole song about (certain) older comedians who say they find the industry tough these days, because it isn’t possible anymore to say some things on stage that were socially acceptable a generation ago. Could they end up like them eventually? My personal hunch is that they would be savvy enough to know to quit before the going gets tough. This does, admittedly, make them sound like wimps, but if they reach the point of no longer enjoying what they do, such is their creativity that they could turn their hands to something else.

They are their own band, and as they write their own material, they go at whatever pace suits them – clearly, they like a challenge. As one might expect, not every song has everyone laughing out loud: a tune towards the end of the show about a relationship with an alien was just plain weird. A nod to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat resulted in some audience interaction – that show has been made available for schools and colleges to perform for decades, such that there are invariably, wherever Flo & Joan take their show, people who were in a school production in some capacity, and aren’t afraid to admit it.

Like many live performing acts, they feel grateful to be back on the road now that public health restrictions have eased – they had managed some streamed performances but found some of their at-home audience may have misunderstood the meaning of “performing sisters online”. The show has a broad appeal: perhaps only the top one per cent of individuals by net worth might feel unwelcome. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant and amusing night out.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Flo & Joan – Sweet Release
Bloomsbury Theatre
15 Gordon Street
London, WC1H 0AH
6th Mar 2022 – 17th Jun 2022

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