***** STARS

By Jessica Taurins

The Umbilical Brothers are surely a household name by now. The duo – David Collins (the Umbie with hair) and Shane Dundas (the Umbie without) – have been working together since university and performing together since the early 90s, constantly refining their slapstick performances. Together they’ve been a part of numerous shows of their own, in addition to opening for Robin Williams and even performing for the Queen! That means you know they must be good.

Contrary to their usual shows, which focus purely on the physical movements and sounds that come out of their own bodies, ‘The Distraction’ moves the Umbies into the modern day, slapping them smack-bang in the middle of a stage covered in baby doll parts and green screens. (Both of those things are important, don’t worry.)

The show opens with a number of dad-level jokes popping up on the huge screen at the back, as well as a cautionary warning that the audience may appear on camera during the show. Throughout the performance, all of the onscreen CGI magic comes from their tech wizard seated upstage, surrounded by props and plugged into a computer, although he does participate physically in some of the scenes as well.

Shortly after the showreel of dad jokes end, the real performance is able to begin. The Umbies run rampant through the theatre in a display of what’s to come, performing against the green screen to broadcast interactions with themselves on the big screen, or using a handheld camera to act as though they’re running through the Arts Centre’s Fairfax Studio instead of simply running on the spot.

There is a huge amount of classic Umbilical Brothers comedy here in ‘The Distraction’, regardless of their use of new technology – as honestly it only serves to complement what they do so well. The skill of the Umbies simply oozes out of their performance, it’s so easy to see that their years of working together have honed impeccable timing and an innate ability to improvise even when the unexpected happens.

The show runs at a rapid-fire pace as the big screen flicks from in-show segment to segment, from Synchronised Sitting Down (and audience participation!) to Baby Sports, something that really must be seen to be believed. However evident it is that the Umbies are so practiced with each other, their positioning on the stage, and their deep knowledge of what props are required for each scene, they still leave room for improv. There are extended periods of audience interaction, as well as seemingly improvised movements they trick each other with from across the stage. At one point there is one character played by both Umbies, David as the legs and Shane as the head, and they decide in the moment which way the character will turn, leading to all sorts of chaos as they guess what’s in the other’s mind.

It is a true delight to see The Umbilical Brothers performing together. Years of playing off each other have culminated in a wonderfully silly yet refined show, and it is well worth picking up tickets to this year’s MICF just to get a glimpse of ‘The Distraction’. While there were a few technical issues with the lapel mics and some feedback through the speakers, the sheer joy in Shane and David’s faces when they laugh at each other’s jokes more than made up for any problems that arose. If you like suit jackets that go on from the front, dismembered baby doll legs, or people whose heads explode, ‘The Distraction’ is probably the only place during this comedy festival where you can get all three.

Images: Gavin D Andrew