Most of us watched the documentary Bros: After the Screaming Stops and laughed; Nicola and Rosie Dempsey (AKA Flo & Joan) saw in it only a warning of what’s in store for singing sibling duos. If their musical comedy career is doomed to expire in mutual acrimony – well, check out Flo & Joan’s Before the Screaming Starts while you can. It can’t quite match Matt Goss for comedy, but at least the laughs here are intentional – and the music’s just as good.
It is a step up from their earlier work, as signalled by a sly opening to the show that turns on the bombast. We’re Confident, they sing, and the feeling is justified. Most of the songs are packed with surprises and, pleasingly, the music performs as much of the comic work as the lyrics. They could get more out of their between-song banter, but it has an intriguing charm, pitched somewhere between affectless deadpan and awkward spontaneity.
The chat presents them as slightly testy misfits, in harmony with one another while keeping their distance, and scarcely bothering to ingratiate themselves with their audience, either. The songs are altogether more upbeat, from the folderol folk song given an aggressive modern makeover, to a satire on anti-vaxxing parents – which feels one-dimensional until a klezmer break takes the song in a nonsense new direction.
The standout is a plangent number about waiting for a parcel delivery, which is funny purely on the level of everyday irritation set to music – even before it abstracts into a quest narrative featuring gorgons, witches and voyages of self-discovery. A track about extricating oneself from dull parties similarly showcases the pair’s flair for observational comedy ad absurdum, leading us from a relatable premise to scenarios altogether more heightened and colourful.
Notwithstanding an ending that finds the Dempseys singing different songs over one another, the Bros/squabbling siblings conceit isn’t developed. The show is never much more than a suite of unrelated songs and non sequitur chat. But when the songs are as well-worked as this – they’ve always got another trick up their sleeve – that’s more than enough.