The Umbilical Brothers: The Distraction | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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The Umbilical Brothers: The Distraction

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Back in the old days, the Umbilical Brothers recall, sketch performers had to ask audiences to use their imagination to conjure up the scenes they were depicting. Well, no more. Thanks to two green screens, countless cameras and monitors and their sidekick Digital Doug [Bayne], anything can now be created on the big screen in real time.

This technically ambitious show has been three years in the making, and they are still adding bits and pieces. But the impressive CGI wizardry - combined with some inventive use of props – only gets you so far. Fortunately, David Collins and Shane Dundas haven’t overlooked the comedy in this gleefully silly hour.

When anything is possible, the key is to make sure everything has its place, that there’s some coherence however surreal the skits get. In The Distraction, there are running jokes about a redneck floating around in the zero gravity of space, plenty of exploding heads, and a recurring strand called Baby Sports which offers some hilarious and dark imagery. In fact babies are something of a running theme, given the ready availability of dolls to use as props. 

The cameras can also be turned on the audience, with a particularly effective trick being to add one of the comedian’s mouths to an audience member’s face, in a digital version of the mask device used by Nina Conti and other ventriloquists. 

Some of the fun involved watching the Australian duo set something up in front of the green screen and trying to figure out what they were planning before the backdrop was added. Given the intricacies of much of this – requiring perfect positioning on the stage and interactions with things that are not there – the pace is remarkably brisk. Gags are packed in so tightly they even appear on the screen as the audience files in.

The duo also recreate a full-on action-movie chase in a model cardboard town on stage. And kudos for the absolutely terrible joke hidden in plain sight for the entire show, sure to earn your grudging admiration when it is revealed.

With all the hardware on display, some tech issues may be inevitable – tonight it was a mic failure, relatively easily resolved,  that left them improvising like troopers for a couple of minutes.

Fine physical comedians both, Collins and  Dundas have been working together for 35 years, but there’s now almost as much chemistry between them and the tech there is with each other when it comes to working in close coordination. The Distraction is not just a  technical achievement but a comic one too.

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Review date: 28 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Assembly Roxy

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