Guest review by Edward Learman
Once, I toyed with the idea of performing at an open-mike night, and basically just talking “seriously” about my most humiliating and disturbing experiences: this would include recollections about diarrhoea, testicles, job interviews and GP visits, culminating with the crème de la crème topic of conversation: Brexit. This final part of the performance would simply involve me repeating (loudly!) the words “Europe”, “this country”, “capitalism”, “Tories”, “Labour”, “Tony”, “Donald”, “Margaret”, “freedom”, “Islam”, “bankers”, “immigration”, “unemployment” over and over again for as long as it took to get thrown out or the audience to start throwing things before leaving, thus illustrating the ridiculousness of any attempt at rational discussion.
I have yet to persevere with this concept, or to be at an open-mike night where I’m drunk enough. Jonny and the Baptists’ award-winning two-man show Eat the Poor takes a slightly more sanitised and friendly, but no less abrasive, approach to delivering their message on the state of the nation.
The two performers, Jonny Donahoe and co-star Paddy Gervers, explain early on that this show is not for everyone for the following reasons: 1. They talk about Brexit 2. They use the word “f***” a lot, except not in a sexual way 3. They’re both “socialists” who went to university. They also politely advise that they’ve had a lot of walkouts, and if there are any UKIP or Tories in the audience, they’ll likely hate the rest of the show and should go home immediately to count their money, or to reassess their priorities if they don’t have any.
This sets the tone for the next 100 minutes. Not exactly a dissection of modern politics or British ideals, more a good-natured, self-effacing plea for sanity in the face of an election that will dictate whether things will stay exactly the same as they always have been or change slightly in favour of the poor who want a better future. To say the irony’s not lost on the two performers is obvious and they know it.
They’re middle-class, they’re artists, their parents own their own homes, they can afford to live in London and their chances in life are better compared to the vast majority of people working as low-paid labourers, nurses and teachers; however, there’s clearly no shortage of starving artists in this country.
Between the jokes, which are a brand of improvised comedy that riffs on how the audience responds – at one point Jonny pointed at a group in the audience and said something like: “I can see you’re already unhappy with this, but please please please don’t leave until the interval because it gets much, much worse, I promise you. Seriously, there’s a lot of jokes I haven’t done yet, and you might enjoy it” – Jonny gives a brief explanation about their ideology, describing their work with the homeless and their contempt for the super-rich elite like Andrew Lloyd Webber (who gets mentioned a lot!), and it feels like they really mean it.
The antics range from songs about how difficult it is for liberals to admit Blair and New Labour were bad when instead we should all just dig up Thatcher and bury her again, to Jonny ditching Paddy and becoming a worldwide success who takes over from Murdoch and controls the media whilst resisting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s deadly seduction, to a song about what would happen if swans declared their independence from Queen Elizabeth’s reign and then conquered the world. This is all clearly meant to be metaphorical, and it’s very funny.
There were also some quite educational moments; at one point the team produce a magazine called The Tatler, a luxury lifestyle publication, where they read a list of the top wealthiest and most important people in England, and which includes such interesting pastimes as wearing hats and owning things. A slightly less absurd example is a song about the 2015 parliamentary vote on whether to abolish tax credits for the lower-income bracket. This consists of a list of names, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Cameron and Theresa May, conjoined with the phrase “Dickvalve. What a bunch of dickvalves!” repeated again and again, with Jonny descending upon the audience to high-five anyone who’s willing.
This is a very funny show, and I’m glad I got to see it – and that I’m not the only starving artist who thinks that politics (or power) is absurd.
Eat the Poor continues on tour until 27th May; check the website for dates and venues.