The first archeological rummage around the Free Fringe has also unearthed its first gem. Long may such a hit rate continue. This sparkling joy takes the form of sisters Nicola and Rosie Dempsey, otherwise known as Flo & Joan; and if the title of their show doesn’t win you over (and it is undoubtedly eye-catching), then their unique and idiosyncratic take on musical comedy certainly will.
Flo & Joan structure their songs around Nicola’s keyboard and Rosie’s sparse, occasionally improvised percussion (Pringles-tube bongos!), balancing this simplicity against clever, verbally dexterous lyrical interplay. The duo have an obvious comedic understanding and chemistry, beyond the sororal bond; and the songs are as carefully and intricately constructed as a Faberge egg. Quite apart from the impressive craft on show, the tunes are also frequently hilarious.
The opening number, detailing an exhaustive list of things about which you really shouldn’t feel bad, is a highlight. Acting as something of a mission statement, there are hints of a darker humour that ripples beneath the jaunty bounce of the melody. There is a gorgeously deft use of language that’s instantly intoxicating. It was clear they had the audience onside from the off.
Other topics included premature wedding plans, the urgent plight of the humble bumble bee, and an epic exploration of love in five movements.
Comparisons that have been made with Flanders & Swann are hard to refute. The songs feel almost like a conversation with the audience; a device utilised by a skilled pair of raconteurs. One could also point to the dizzying vocal gymnastics of Tom Lehrer as a potential influence. Just when you think you have a handle on where the joke is going, there is an abrupt switch, a surreal interlude, or a nimble referral back to an earlier joke in the song.
Not all the songs are standouts. ‘Brunch Qween’ felt noticeably weaker, perhaps because it refers to a very specific experience the sisters had while living in Toronto. Any faults were few and far between however. Spending an hour in the company of the Dempsey sisters was simply a lovely experience. The downstairs bar at the Newsroom was fairly crowded, suggesting that Flo & Joan may already be an open secret. One suspects they will get a lot of repeat custom as word spreads further.