Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Comedy: The Umbilical Brothers

Heaven By Storm
Written and performed by The Umbilical Brothers
David Collins and Shane Dundas

Regal Theatre
September 17, 18, 19, 2010 

Australian comedians Dave Collins and Shane Dundas have performed as the Umbilical Brothers with great success around the world for two decades. A testament to their popularity is the three packed houses for their latest show, Heaven by Storm, at the 1000-seat Regal Theatre.
Dave and Shane are highly skilled and seasoned physical comics; Collins is a terrific mime and Dundas an outstanding sound effects performer, and together they bring huge energy and invention to their performance.
There’s no doubt the mixed and enthusiastic audience were fans – the reception Dave and Shane got at their first appearance was rock-star stuff – but you couldn’t help but feel the crowd’s energy drifting away even while the visual gags and jokes kept on coming.
So why was it somehow so unsatisfying?
I think it’s because their talent and skill don’t take us anywhere. There’s a narrative of sorts, but it doesn’t grip us; there are characters on stage, but they don’t engage us; there’s even a death or two, but no poignancy.
There’s a great deal of comedy about comedy, mime about mime, and sound gags about sound gags. And some of it is very funny — like the extended bathroom scene that ends (kiddies avert your imaginations) with Shane’s genitals being lacerated by a cut-throat razor; and a scene in a nightclub with both characters unable to hear one another over the din.
But none of it offers us the slightest insight.
And it’s long. Very long. Two hours of material probably most often seen in bits on variety shows and YouTube (some of their videos there have millions of hits) really grinds over the distance. And some of the later parts of the show, in particular an interminable Star Wars parody, were just messy and boring.         
Many years ago, Spike Milligan performed on this same stage; at one point he did a little mime he introduced as “A man teaching his dog to jump over the Moon”. Milligan looked down at the floor and then, abruptly, pointed skyward and cried “Moon! Moon!”
All of a sudden you knew the dog was small and confused, the Moon was impossibly far away, but the man was utterly convinced the task was both logical and do-able. It remains the funniest, saddest and wisest thing I’ve ever seen on a stage.
The Umbilical Brothers also mime a man and a dog, and a man on the Moon, but for all its skill and technique, Heaven by Storm remained obstinately earthbound.

An edited version  of this review appeared in the West Australian 20.09.10 here. 

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