Irish showbands are not the acme of musical cheesiness; Irish semi-professional duos are. And Tom & Gerry – D'Unbelievables – are the most semi-professional duo in their part of Tipperary. Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt's raucous, gleefully sprawling show recreates a rural wedding at which the entertainment is provided by two beer-bellied, frilly-shirted specimens who make Raw Sex look like Bon Jovi. They also play the wedding photographer, the priest and a variety of guests in various stages of inebriation and accents that can only be described as hobnailed brogues.
But, as Leonard Sachs used to say, the action is provided by "this time, chiefly, yourselves!" A hapless pair of punters are dragooned into being the happy couple and pulled onstage for photographs; they are joined by another clutch of innocent spectators for the family shots, then forced to initiate the dancing (inevitably, to "The Birdie Song"). The performers pass through the auditorium holding one-sided chats with alleged friends and relatives – in an admirable feat of memory, successive characters set up running gags by attributing entire histories to the same victims. Even the bar offers no safety against the flood of anarchy, as a score of women are pressed into service for the traditional throwing of the bouquet, and the priest passes amongst us in pastoral-chat mode.
It could be two hours of torture. But Kenny and Shortt are without malice and, while they cause a richness of embarrassment, they inflict no humiliation. Whatever spectacles they make of the audience, they willingly undergo much worse themselves. They break every rule in the clowning manual – their characters are often grossly caricatured, repetitive and un-fleshed-out – but their years on the Irish circuit have taught them how to build a rapport and work a house with consummate skill. Jon Kenny, in particular, possesses a delicacy of touch belied by his brash presentation. One moment he's a two-faced matron bad-mouthing the front rows to one another (Eithne Everage, anyone?), the next he stops the chuckling short as a rambling ex-pat subsiding into lonely melancholy amid an event which is "all about family".
To English ears many of the verbals verge on the impenetrable, but the duo's irresistible daftness carries all before it. Both the show and D'Unbelievables thoroughly live up to their names, and the most sobering thought of all comes with Kenny's closing line about such acts: "Take care – they're out there."
Written for the London Evening Standard.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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