Fringe review: The Umbilical Brothers – The Distraction

The ever-energetic Umbilical Brothers keep the laughs coming as they return to the Fringe with their daftly hilarious, award-winning mash-up of live performance, real time footage and green-screen-trickery. ★★★★ ½

Feb 20, 2023, updated Feb 20, 2023

The gags flashing up on the giant screen above are already earning belly laughs from the audience as it files into The Vagabond. This main screen towers over two smaller, webcam-fronted green screens which flank a substantial mixing desk centre-stage.

“Enabling your screen addiction,” goes the program blurb, and it’s all very meta (with a lower case “m”), the audience glued to the screen as it waits for the duo to arrive on stage. It’s a good way to warm up the crowd, but there’s also a sense that the Brothers (aka David Collins and Shane Dundas) brim over with so many jokes that the screen is there to catch the overspill.

The show begins at a sedate pace with Collins, in his green-screen dressing room, ending up snogging his alter ego in the mirror, taking his own sweet time. It feels like that moment of pause at the top of a rollercoaster ride before it begins rolling again – whoo, off we go! – swiftly picking up speed, sketches and action. Prop-wrangling and quick costume changes and dashes between screen and camera grow ever more chaotic and frenzied, the Umbies sometimes not having quite enough time to make a transition, which only adds to the hilarity.

Here’s Dundas as an accidental astronaut from Kentucky chased by a giant baby in space; here’s a split-second, dad-joke-level pun referencing a French Impressionist painter, or Collins putting words into the late Steve Job’s mouth (I’ll never be able to say the word “cloud” any other way again). Even the technician in charge of the mixing desk joins in the fun.

It’s all joyfully wild, surreal and playful, coaxing out the kid inside, the belly laughs evidence that the audience has left its stuffy adult self at the door.

Performing together for longer than most marriages, the “Umbies” have, over the decades, perfected their blend of surreal slapstick and mime, punny dialogue and vocal mimicry. This show, on its third iteration in Adelaide, may largely be scripted, but it still provides enough improvised moments to keep things fresh, particularly when the audience is called into play.

While you could use the occasional one-liner for a chin-rubbing analysis of the show (“You need screens to process reality”), the Umbies aren’t about delivering po-faced lectures, but seem, instead, to be having just as much fun as they did when they first started, and that playful joy sure is catching.

The Umbilical Brothers – The Distraction is at The Vagabond in the Garden of Unearthly Delights until March 19.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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