REVIEW: The Umbilical Brothers Heaven by Storm (Comedy Festival)

The Umbilical Brothers Heaven by Storm
The Umbilical Brothers Heaven by Storm

Cosmically connected comedy [by Sharu Delilkan]

The Umbilical Brothers Heaven by Storm
The Umbilical Brothers Heaven by Storm

It was a stormy evening in Auckland as we crossed the bridge to check out The Umbilical Brothers.

It has been three years since we last saw them so we were really excited that they were back at the NZ International Comedy Festival.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the Bruce Mason Centre almost two-thirds full on such a dreary evening.

To be honest if I wasn’t reviewing the show I probably would have curled up on the couch and stayed at home.

But luckily I had an obligation and I couldn’t be happier that I had gone to see the show.

Three years later the dynamic duo still have the chops and their telepathic performance still lives up to their name as The Umbilical Brothers.

That’s probably not surprising considering that they’ve been performing together for two decades now.

Cleverness ran through the show from the start, with its brilliant premise that the ‘brothers’ are dead. A hilariously disrespectful conversation with God sets the scene for the mayhem that follows – and we are told that in Heaven “God just does the admin”.

From this point the plot proceeds to unravel into the whacky craziness we have come to expect from The Umbilical Brothers.

Their show Heaven By Storm, originally earned them the Critics’ Choice Award for comedy and a coveted Perrier nomination at the 1995 Edinburgh Fringe and was last performed in 2008. It is considered one of their most physically demanding shows.

Sadly I must admit I haven’t seen Heaven By Storm before so I cannot compare it to a previous performance.

For those like me who don’t know the story Heaven by Storm is centered around an unfortunate incident, involving a much-loved insect, which leads to Shane chasing Dave around for the rest of the show for ‘monetary gain’.

Far fetched, yes.  But you have to see it to believe it.

But what I can say is that both Dave (Collins) and Shane (Dundas), who prefer to be referred to by their first names, are obviously in excellent physical condition.

The highly acrobatic show will leave you gasping for air, even if you’re just sitting comfortably in your seat.

All the mayhem is set in a bewildering number of locations including Japan, Heaven, an imaginary house, a park, the gym, a heavily trafficked intersection which incorporates various forms of transport including a couple of high energy car and pedestrian chases.

Much ‘geekiness’ is evident in the show – Star Wars, Star Trek, moon landings – all parodied with such immense wit that it works brilliantly.

The numerous scenes are mimed beautifully with some deceptively simple and inspired lighting design, adding to the on-stage acting and skilful sound effects.

The audience appeared suitably impressed and this was echoed by a number of conversations I overheard after the show.

The Umblicial Brothers signature of  – one ‘brother’s’ mime combining seamlessly with the other’s sound effects – has lost none of its originality and humour.  A new element was that there was a lot more banter and improvisation, with the brothers taking delight in tripping up each other’s performances, causing hilarity, confusion and some ‘corpsing’.

At one point Shane (the master of the sound effects) said “Without me you’re just a mime”, to which Dave (the performer on stage at the time) quickly retorted “Without me you’re just a fart noise”.

The duo clearly put a huge amount of effort into the show, which fabulously combines well-coordinated dual physical comedy, enhanced by complimentary lighting and sound effects.

It’s impossible to mention every crazy scene, setting and storyline without spoiling the fun.  But rest assured your head will be spinning like a top with the breathtaking amount of material condensed into this 90-minute show.

I think the jury is out on how much improvisation the show should contain – much of it is great but at times I preferred the set pieces that are so skillfuly crafted.

As pointed out by David to Shane during he weapon-fitted bathroom scene “Stop improvising – we said we’d behave ourselves – there are probably reviewers out there!”  And indeed we were.

However, I have to admit Heaven by Storm is outstanding, despite some overly protracted improvised scenes.

We have been big fans of the Umbies for a while and are still in awe of their sheer energy and cleverly conceived show. 

It’s definitely well worth seeing.

And harking back to the long forgotten premise of the show – the ‘brothers’’ death is clearly no barrier to great comedy.

Heaven by Storm plays at the Bruce Mason Centre until 12 May.  Details see NZ International Comedy Festival.

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