Nicola and Rosie Dempsey (aka: Flo & Joan) walk out to polite applause before stumbling through the intro bars of their opening number. Sound suspiciously off-brand for an established musical comedy act? Turns out it is. They excuse themselves and re-enter to flashing lights, smoke machines on full blast and thunderous cheering. This is Flo & Joan: Before the Screaming Starts and they’ve already fooled us once. Shame on us.
Flo & Joan embrace their RBFs (Resting Bitch Face) as a suit of armour, and the audience loves them for it.
Confidence is the perfect introduction song. With a list of heroic acts, including wearing white jeans on day two of a period, their perfectly synchronised vocals and deadpan delivery tell us everything we need to know about what’s in store for the evening. There’s very little patter between numbers, although the Dempseys do brief introductions to each song, and it’s not exactly stand up – in truth, they’re sitting down the whole time – but it gives us a bit more insight into the performers and their recent trip to Disneyland.
The sisters’ performance styles complement each other, despite their strikingly different personalities. On keys, Nicola is robotic in every sense of the word, singing the monosyllabic bass line of each chord with an appropriately blank expression. Rosie sings the higher melodies and handles the drum kit, bopping along and, well, showing emotion. There is something curiously captivating about the combination of these two techniques.
Their intentionally impassive stage personas have led to them being compared to Flight of the Conchords, and there is something refreshing about a female act committing to this format – going against the assumption that women must be smiling and friendly at all times in order to be liked. Flo & Joan embrace their RBFs (Resting Bitch Face) as a suit of armour, and the audience loves them for it.
Their go-to performance style is an impressive feat of high-speed syncopation which, though impressive, can feel a little repetitive. The closing number is the first time we get an alternative format, including targeted interruptions and a call and response setup that requires incredible skill. The songs themselves sample various genres, from traditional English folk to rap and hip hop (sometimes at the same time). Tackling topics like; anti-vaxxers, society’s low expectations of men, the struggle of waiting for a parcel delivery, being short, and wanting to leave parties early, Flo & Joan has something for everyone.
Anyone with a sister will marvel at how the Dempseys have managed to keep this band going for so long without someone borrowing someone else’s skirt and pretending she thought it was the one she bought in Debenhams, even though the other one knows for damn sure she got it two Christmasses ago from her college roommate. Perhaps insane levels of talent and mutual respect get them through the family drama. We may never know. The only thing to do is go see Flo & Joan: Before the Screaming Starts, then grab your most talented relative and see if inspiration strikes.