Jonny and the Baptists review – hard-hitting politics and a soft centre

‘As of right now, we’re no longer political.” That’s the conceit of this new show from Jonny and the Baptists, AKA musical comics Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers. They have made their name setting-up (and sending-up) leftwing causes to Gervers’ emphatic guitar-playing and Donahoe’s big bluesy voice – and where has it got them? Or any of us? So instead, they are making a show about love, following the birth of Donahoe’s daughter with fellow comedian Josie Long.

That’s the pitch, although you can’t take it entirely seriously after an opener that loudly choruses “you’re either against capitalism or for the end of the world.” There follows a fine, funny song about the unlikely plans they are making to scam the super-rich, and a riposte to Twitter trolls that shut down every progressive gesture with a disdaining “where will it all end?” The show is set to be as politicised as each of its predecessors since Donahoe and Gervers broke through with their Ukip song five years ago. They have some wicked fun here quoting the critics (mea partly culpa), who once questioned whether Farage was a threat. It’s nice to be right, but in this instance, they must wish they had been wrong.

Sentimental … Jonny and the Baptists.

It’s only midway (after a showstopper retelling of the biblical story of Abraham from his scandalised son’s perspective) that the gig turns sentimental, with songs about Donahoe’s baby and Gervers’ mum, who died when he was seven. They’re played straight, not for laughs, their respective lyrics circling one another as they conjure the ineffable mysteries of life at its beginning and end.

The point is that love is political at a time when acrimony and division hold the whip hand. That might sound schmaltzy but it isn’t in performance, as a final number reaches for tortuous animal metaphors to express the depth of the duo’s friendship. There’s hard-hitting politics in the old dogs yet, but their new show is none the worse for its soft centre.

At Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, until tonight. Then touring.
Read all our Edinburgh festival reviews.

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