Reviews Edinburgh Published 2 August 2013

Jonny and the Baptists: Bigger Than Judas

Pleasance Dome ⋄ 31st - 26th August

Protest songs.

Natasha Tripney

Jonny Donahoe wants to change the world. And he wants to do this through the medium of song. For changing the world, read kicking up a stink: stamping and ranting and sweating and letting the audience know all about the things that get under his skin.

Subjects up for dissection include ridiculously expensive weddings and the people who throw them, the slow, cruel creep of gentrification, UKIP and Nigel-fucking-Farage.

The show feels more focussed than their exuberant but slightly scatter-shot effort last year; there are fewer unexpected excursions into the surreal – no repetition of the Quentin Blake song (which is a shame, I loved the Quentin Blake song) – and more of an emphasis on social commentary.

There’s also one less Baptist than there was; whereas for a while they were a trio now Donahoe duets with guitarist Paddy Gervers and his lovely, lovely hair. Gervers is a talented and versatile musician but, as it stands (this was a preview), they don’t capitalize on their contrasting personas quite as much as they might. Donahoe quickly gets himself worked up and whipped up, his shirt gluing itself to his back, his head frequently veiled in a turquoise towel like a sweaty Mother Teresa, while Paddy remains as laid back as it’s possible to be whilst still remaining upright. Jonny does most of the talking while Paddy occasionally eats some pretzels (this is actually quite funny).

It’s their combined energy that really makes this show work, knitting things together. Donahoe’s songs are solidly constructed, though less bluesy than before. They’re also less obviously pastiche driven than some similar acts. And while some of the material can be variable, their commitment to it isn’t. Donahoe is also performing a stand-up show this year – Class Whore at the Underbelly – and he comes across as a man with several axes to grind, but also as someone with an acute awareness of the contradictions inherent in his on-stage persona.

The best comic songs have a real sting and that’s the case here. The brittle but brilliant ‘Festival of Me’ – about the aggressive spendiness of many contemporary weddings – is a case in point, while their Thatcher song is as much about the public response to her death as her death itself. Class and Englishness underscore much of the material, particularly ‘Boom!’, a song about people’s reticence to make a scene when confronted with unpleasant and socially questionable behaviour. There’s a righteous quality to a lot of the new songs – the move into stand-up seems a logical step. It feels as if they’re still negotiating the line between outright entertainment and something a bit more searching, but that process of negotiation is interesting in and of itself.


Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

Jonny and the Baptists: Bigger Than Judas Show Info

Cast includes Jonny Donahoe, Paddy Gervers



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