As a left-wing, working class Northerner who grew up in Thatcher’s England, a scathing musical about Rich Bastard Tories and the havoc they are wreaking on society was always going to hit my sweet spot, and any pretence at being critically objective was lost the minute Jonny & the Baptists started singing a highly disrespectful ditty about the Iron Lady – frankly, if they’d burned the theatre down after that, I still would have gone home happy.
But personal prejudices aside, there’s an awful lot to love in Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers’ show. The songs are clever, catchy and funny, but also pack a punch, highlighting topics that are genuinely important. Taking pot-shots at everything from tax-dodging aristocrats to ‘strategic’ Brexit voters who never expected to win, they might be aiming at easy targets, but they do so with so much verve and likeability (and a heady dose of self-awareness and self-deprecation) that it’s impossible not to be swept along.
They tackle political and economic inequality with biting, occasionally surreal humour and lots of energy and smarts – sharp teeth are only partly hidden under Donahoe’s avuncular affability and Gervers’ sweetly ditzy demeanour and tendency to succumb to the giggles. They are also clear that there’s plenty of blame to go around, equally ready to remind you that it was New Labour that let the banks run riot, that political division is everywhere, and that everyone who expects to inherit their parents’ house is complicit in a system loaded against those at the bottom of the ladder.
The second half, featuring a fantasy tale set in the future where Jonny signs up to write musicals for Andrew Lloyd Webber and leaves Paddy to starve on the street, lacks the sharp focus of the earlier songs and rambles slightly into repetition. But by then, the pair have so won you over with their slightly ramshackle charm that even the fictional dissolving of their partnership feels genuinely moving, and the piece makes some incisive points about the obliviousness of privilege (not to mention the appropriation of ‘poverty chic’). Despite its willingness to be silly, the show is underpinned with a fury at the injustice of it all, and it is this righteous anger, this call to arms for a better world, that makes it so compelling.
Jonny & The Baptists were performing as part of the Brighton Fringe. Click here for more details.