The Umbilical Brothers, consisting of Shane Dundas and David Collins, have been performing together since 1990. Speedmouse was first developed and performed in 2001, so I’m sure that most of the audience, like myself, were familiar with at least aspects of the routine. Speedmouse is based on the premise that the guys are now utilising digital technology to enable them to pause, fast forward, skip and mute various aspects of the performance. Unfortunately, someone has the remote that controls the show, causing havoc and hilarity as the performance unfolds. In Speedmouse Dundas and Collins are joined by 2 additional characters – ‘Roadie’; a disturbing clown character who act as their little needed stagehand, and ‘Tina’; the surprisingly deep disembodied voice of the show controller. The occasional interactions with these two characters adds an element of continuity to an otherwise quite random structure that effectively consists of a range of unconnected skits. From Olympic track and field events, to alien dinosaur versions of Dundas and Collins aiming to replace the audience with Umbilical Brothers clones, the use of the ‘remote control’ was the connection between most ‘scenes’, with the underlying conflict and power struggles between Dundas, Collins, Roadie and Tina the only continuous element.
Regardless of the particulars of the individual shows the Umbilical Brothers perform, the reason audiences return again and again is their amazing skills with their unique combination of mime, vocal sound effects and physical comedy. Perhaps due to our regular use of digital technology, their seamless portrayal of a scene being rewound or fast forwarded can initially be taken for granted, but on reflection, the level of technical skill is mind-blowing.
Through their use of vocal sound effects and mime, the audience ‘see’ each set clearly, with no need for props beyond a single blue panel. This lack of reliance on props is freeing, allowing the performance to include characters floating away on balloons, flying (and crashing) in helicopters, travelling between worlds and competing in the Olympics, all in a surprisingly convincing way, supported by their mastery of mime and vocal sound effects, and the audiences imagination. The illusion was occasionally enhanced by minimal lighting effects, but primarily relied on the Umbilical Brothers ability to create the scene in the audiences mind.
Regardless of whether the specifics of the show are familiar, the Umbilical Brothers never fail to entertain and amaze with their gift for physical comedy and mastery of vocal effects. The 2016 Melbourne Comedy festival is no exception – once again they had the audience in the palm of their hand. An hour spent with the Umbilical brothers is guaranteed to leave you smiling!