Flo and Joan | Review
The MAC, Belfast • 20 September ’18
Words Elizabeth McGeown
Stop the presses! Flo & Joan are not actually called Flo and Joan; they are Nicola and Rosie Dempsey. We breathe a sigh of relief when we find out they are real sisters though, choosing their stage names by mining the family tree for a Flo and a Joan, one reachable via landline, one only contactable with a ouija board. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. We’re in the illustrious surrounding’s of The MAC’s Luminaire Club with its cabaret seating, table service, drinks menu and stage softly purple lit with gradually decreasing semicircles festooned with lightbulbs creating a domed effect. Rebekah Fitch is in the centre of the dome, transfixing an audience who, let’s be honest, are here mainly to see comedy and she’s anything but. Fitch is a complex songwriter. Layers upon layers of before-our-eyes programmed loops underscore synths and live drumpad beating with the cherry on top being vocals that have the dexterity and clarity of an X Factor finalist. Perhaps the only wrong note is when she refers to our headline act as Flo and Jane, but we’ll forgive her.
There is shuffling about on a pitch black stage and the lights go up, suddenly, dramatically to reveal Flo and Joan in their poster campaign poses: dark-haired Flo on a low chair at a keyboard, stern-faced and blonde Joan on a slightly higher chair, equally stony-faced and raising a small percussive shaker above her head as if about to go into battle with it. They begin with a musical welcome, gradually listing all the people who are not welcome including: paedophiles, the KKK, Eamonn Holmes and crocs wearers. When paedophilia is mentioned this early on in an evening, we know the night will be close to the bone. The sharpest barbs are hidden in the most pleasant-sounding songs. The plan by Doritos to release crisps for women that don’t crunch as loudly lest a lady embarrass herself with loudness leads to a song about the glass ceiling because if lady crisps cannot be loud, surely the implication is that women should not be loud in general? A dramatic tango with a change from shaker to castanets for Joan tells the story of a sex robot who is programmed to do household chores, tell bedtime stories to your children and do nearly everything… except say no.
Not all lyrics are profound though. Carol the cracker packer packs a cracking pack of crackers (and then explodes) and can you say that three times fast? These two can. Repeatedly. The audience fail in their attempt and Joan grins and simply picks up the tempo, telling us we are the worst at tongue twisters of the entire tour so far. We believe it. ‘Lady In The Woods’ starts with a foot-thumping, atonal a capella and a lady who with each verse is gradually revealed to be low-brow, lizard-loving, legless and long-haired, to name but a few. Each L-word is revealed to much laughter from the audience who are frantically trying to guess the punchlines before the are revealed… and they are inevitably wrong. There’s musicality in spades with fine-tuned harmonies and some jazz and funk recorder solos from Flo.
Between songs they treat us to their as-yet-unwritten responses to Facebook messages from fans and very much not-fans. It’s a unique insight into the trolling that people in the public eye have to face and they deal with the death threats they have received in song form, writing to the pre-teen children of one of the worst internet trolls bringing the realisation to us that toxic masculinity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, that internet actions can affect the real world. ‘Dear Little Flo And Little Joan’ ends the night and it’s a lovely way to finish. The idea of writing a letter to your childhood self isn’t a new one but it brings all the themes of the night back – saying no, saying yes, being kind – and ties them together with a big bow. We’re all heartwarmed as we head back out into the rain, repeating quietly to ourselves “Carol cracker packer packs a cracking pack of crackers”!