The Umbilical Brothers – The Distraction

Combining green screen wizardry with puppetry, pantomime and slapstick

By Sebastian Purcell

Just when you thought live theatre was back and we could all escape our screens …

The Umbilical Brothers bring their new show The Distraction to audiences combining the magic of green screen wizardry and their trademark puppetry, pantomime and slapstick to deliver an experience that only makes sense in this Covid world.

David Collins and Shane Dundas provide an impressive display of acting that balances the need for physical theatre and nuanced by the more subtle movements picked up by the cameras; at times you’re not sure where to look as the funny is often off the screen. This is a creative, clever show, which utilises loops and small scale models and props, paired with CGI and the Umbilicals performances, all simultaneously happening on stage and screen.

With two green screens the Umbilical Brothers are able to combine and build scenes together providing multiple viewpoints which are both clever and provide plenty of laughs, including some novel ways of defying gravity in space from earth and communicating with Steve Jobs in the cloud. The show moves around a handful of skits including Baby Sports (basketball, Olympic Curling, Rugby), button mashing in space and heads being blown off, and is strung together by the impending destruction of the ever-looming big baby.

As with most of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, audience participation is a given, but there is no where to hide when the house lights come up and the camera turns on the audience. Kudos to those involved in this performance who ably participated whether by having their heads blown off or providing themselves as intact talking heads.

Putting a show on which relies on live green screening is always a risk and the technology appeared to fail for a few moments, with a system re-set required. There’s no impact for these seasoned performers with improvising comedy often at their core, the show simply becoming an example of art imitating life.

Its no wonder the Umbilical Brothers are at the top of their game, continuing to innovate the live theatre experience, and in ways that makes the show suitable for all ages.

While the The Umbilical Brothers The Distraction has finished its run as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival you can still catch their upcoming shows if you’re in Brisbane at QPAC from the 27/04/21 or Perth at the State Theatre Centre of WA from 14/05/21.

For tickets and more details visit https://www.umbilicalbrothers.com/

Photography courtesy of Gavin D Andrew

REVIEW: Cameron James and Jared Jekyll in PARADISE

Don’t be misled by the picture…

By Margaret Wieringa

Being asked by the usher, ‘Have you got a ticket to Paradise?’ was one of my favourite non-show moments of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival – and what a way to kick off an hour of comedy. By the time I left the room, I was exhausted from laughing.

The premise is that Cameron James and Jared Jekyll are a comedy duo who are invited by a mysterious character to perform at PICF – Paradise Island Comedy Festival. Knowing nothing about it, they head off on an adventure that turns mysterious and dangerous, and it is possible not everyone will return. And there may need to be a hilarious pretend memorial partway through the show.


Once on the island, the pair confront a number of interesting characters including the voodoo chief who shouts in a gibberish cross between rap and the Haka which is translated by another tribe member into a bizarre reggae number. Oh, and there’s the horny heir to the millionaire owner of the island. And not to forget the voyeuristic jungle animals…

These guys are great. Funny, affable and very talented. The show kicks off with their new song, Addiction, which involves some funky guitar, an awful lot of beat-boxing and mime. Big and hilarious mime.

The duo are still relatively new to the comedy world: after coming up through RAW Comedy in 2012 and 2013, Jekyll and James have been busy playing festivals and gigs across the country. It is very difficult to raise yourself above the crowd in a comedy festival with nearly five hundred shows, especially when your time-slot is at 11pm. Yet despite their frankly appalling image in the festival guide, the Locker Room was packed. The audience loved the show, rocking the room with laughter and eagerly participating whenever asked to.

It is fabulous that MICF sees so many familiar names returning and big names coming from overseas, but often my favourite moments come from seeing an act for the first time. Especially when it is an act that clearly has a lot to offer, and hopefully a big future in comedy. It’s a small room and a late night, but Paradise is more than worth the investment.

Venue: Portland Hotel – Locker Room
Dates: 27 March – 19 April (Thurs, Fri and Sat nights) 11pm
Tickets: $20 full, $15 conc
Bookings: http://www.ticketmaster.com.au/, 1300 660 0131300 660 013 or at the door


Smooth Response to Prickly Comedy

By Darcy Whitsed

“When I first heard it, I thought it was about how hedgehogs had sex”, was how the audience was greeted by the extremely enthusiastic and hilarious Felicity Ward in her one-night-only Melbourne International Comedy Festival show The Hedgehog Dilemma.

In a show that went against almost all expectations of a live stand-up comedy performance, Ward had the audience engrossed in her outrageous personal anecdotes centered on the Freudian theory of hedgehog-related human intimacy.

Felicity Ward

After appearing as her own pre-show entertainment in a pair of bright pink high heels, tight black singlet and bike shorts and introducing the special DVD filming of the show, the audience was treated Ward’s story that ranged from her watching television alone in sadly unused wedding attire to discovering her potential as a comedian.

This journey was charismatically told with the help of surprisingly ocker sexual innuendos, a cute photo montage (with the shocking punchline of male genitalia), incredible physicality and moments of characterisation. Ward utilized every aspect of her gangly comic arsenal to have the responsive audience in stitches at each twist and turn.

The real charm of the show came from Ward’s unashamed connection to the material. Born from her personal experiences and despite being sad, embarrassing or hilarious, it was all put on display for the audience’s entertainment. The great story-telling within the show gave it an excellent sense of progression and drew the audience into Felicity’s wacky and wonderful world.

The show briefly lulled as the material fell into the clichéd realm of self-deprecating, alcoholic comedian whose life was so dysfunctional it couldn’t possibly be used for anything besides comedy. But this was not enough to taint the performance overall and when the hope-filled and unexpectedly serious conclusion arrived, it actually helped create a great sense of contrast and again surprised the audience by going against their expectations.

The Hedgehog Dilemma came to a teary close for both Ward and audience alike as it was performed for the last time in Australia, which in my opinion is a huge shame. I highly recommend picking up the DVD of this show when it arrives on shelves to anyone that loves comedy, drama, amazing story-telling, hedgehogs or penis-jokes.

The Hedgehog Dilemma was performed at Athenaum Theatre, Monday 15th April 2013.

Review: WORD CRIME with Alice Fraser

Trying to find the right words

By Myron My

Alice Fraser’s Word Crime is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and in it she looks at language and how we use them to shape the world yet despite this rich resource for comedy there was ultimately very little present in this act. Fraser spent most of the time offering social commentary on how women are seen in society and about the violence that is sweeping America.

Word Crime

There were awkward moments in this show and I would like to put it down to preview night nerves but some of the material that was covered seemed inappropriate in such a setting. Death can be funny but trying to bring humour into topics such as suicide and her mother’s terminal suffering of MS is a very difficult thing to do especially when there is a room full of people who haven’t been warmed into your brand of comedy. There were jokes that were bordering on racist, and references to World War 2 that just didn’t work and made it difficult to connect with the performer.

There were many times that Fraser said how important words were for her as a child and how her mother would speak many languages and read poetry but unfortunately she never went further with this. The flow of delivery was a bit abrupt and we kept re-visiting topics that seemed out of place after what we had just been discussing.

Fraser seemed quite nervous on stage which is understandable for a preview, but perhaps more rehearsing was needed as she often began talking about something that was very personal, but paused, apparently remembering lines or thinking about what she was going to say next. A few times, Fraser even dismissed the attempt and went on to talk about something else.

Fraser was at her strongest when singing and playing the banjo so it’s a shame there wasn’t more of this. Her lyrics were charming and her song about being the best stalker in the land was actually quite sweet…in a stalker kind of way.

Overall, Word Crime is a concept of great potential doesn’t quite come together this time.

Venue: The Butterfly Club, 256 Collins St (entry via Carson Place), Melbourne

Season: Until 17 April | Tues-Wed, 6:00pm

Tickets: $18 Full | $14 Concession

Bookings: www.butterflyclub.com, 1300 660 013 or at the door

REVIEW: Nath Valvo is ALMOST 30

Comedy only gets better and better

By Bradley Storer

Nath Valvo

Comedian Nath Valvo takes to the stage of his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show and informs us of two things – one, that he is (no surprise, considering the title) coming close to the age of thirty. Number two, that in twenty-nine years he has never had an actual happy birthday. We are then led on tour through the horrific highlights of Valvo’s celebratory tragedies, cringing and stricken with shocked laughter in equal measures.

Valvo has surprisingly lost some of the merciless ferocity which characterized his previous shows but this softer approach actually magnifies the effect of his material and helps garner audience sympathy more. Nevertheless, Valvo retains his razor-sharp wit and willingness to push the boundaries of taste which makes this show just as funny (if not more so) than previous offerings.

Beginning in the comedian’s childhood, the show offers many jovial memories for children of the nineties (the use of specific songs to represent each year bringing back many chuckles of recognition). Clever structuring ensures the show doesn’t drag, and Valvo finds several ways to enter the audience and bring members up onstage, including teaching some lucky people the fine art of dancing to dubstep. One particular moment, involving a couple and a wacky game-show style questionnaire, drew dangerously close to crossing the line in terms of how far a comedian can push their audience – Valvo has enough stage charisma to make it work, but I still found myself on edge for some of the wrong reasons.

This one moment aside, this is a fantastic offering from a rising comedic star, whose abilities and ingenuity seem to grow by leaps and bounds with every new show. Blending delicacy and boldness, Valvo ties together the narrative with a finale that is surprisingly touching and sends you out with a smile on your face.

DATES: 28th March – 21st April

TIME: 9:30pm (8:30 Sunday)

VENUE: Trades Hall, The Annexe, Corner of Lygon and Victoria St, Carlton

TICKETS: Full Wed – Sat $20, Conc Wed – Sat $17, Sun $15, Tightarse Tuesday $15, Group (5+) $15

BOOKING: www.ticketmaster.com.au 1300 660 0131300 660 013, www.comedyfestival.com.au, Melbourne Town Hall Box Office or at the venue.

Review: EMILY TAYLOR in Cannonball

Dark clever comedy in MICF debut

By Tania Herbert

As the hub for the MICF, audiences are always full of energy at the Victoria Hotel. And energy is certainly not lacking from Emily Taylor in her one-woman show Cannonball.

Emily Taylor

The audience files in to Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, but it is certainly a somewhat darker place than Oz that we find ourselves drawn into.

Initially a seemingly innocent comic farce set in a glass tower shopping mall, Taylor moves effortlessly through an array of comic characters connected to the tower. Be it a precocious child, an uptight German receptionist or a vomiting neurotic cat, Taylor completely transforms herself voice and body to encapsulate each character.

From a depressed window washer to a self-absorbed CEO Taylor was convincing throughout. “Deedee” the demonic cabbage patch doll was perhaps one of the creepiest comic characters I’ve ever had the somewhat uncomfortable pleasure of meeting.

However, as Cannonball charges on, we come to realise that the characters are not linked by the tower, but instead by their neurosis, with each fighting their own private battle with a problematic unconscious. Despite the increasingly heavy content, there is certainly no lack of comedy, and laughter came easily and in good measure. The adaption to each persona showed a truly consummate performer, and from Emily we see not merely a joke writer, but a formidable actor.

There is a fair bit of wrong in this show- but not enough that it stops you laughing, and the depth of content kept me musing through the next day. The show definitely had more of a feel of “Fringe” then “Comedy” and a very dark ending did not leave the audience laughing in the closing stages. However, it is always rewarding to be reminded that comedy is not only goofy stand-ups, but can also be clever, satirical theatre. If you like to mix drama with your comedy, Emily Taylor is certainly a performer to look out for in the future.

Cannonball played March 29 – April 7 at MICF. Emily Taylor’s next performance dates can be found here.

Review: ANNE EDMONDS with The Quarter Cabbage

Comedy with a side of veggies

By Myron My

For three years now local comedy favourite Anne Edmonds has performed stand-up at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. This year, she has gone for a character-driven piece with The Quarter Cabbage where she presents a one-woman play about four strangers who are connected by a single cabbage.

We are in a fruit shop – not a room at the comedy festival – and Tony the unseen owner, is visited by four distinct characters; old and slightly senile John Watts, new-age organic-obsessed Justice, ‘Mental Health’ personified, and Rebecca, a young woman with dream of being on X-Factor. Each purchases a quarter cabbage and as they do, we are given an insight into their varied lives as they talk to Tony.

Anne Edmonds

Whilst Edmonds is backstage getting changed into the next character, we hear a variety of comic phone conversations John makes to various customer service companies with hilarious complaints and ludicrous demands, such as threatening to switch from Yarra Trams to their rival – trains. These calls had everyone in stitches and kept the energy of the show going without Edmonds’ physical presence.

There were some nerves the night I attended early in the season, and a few things not going to plan – like a banjo not tuned – but Edmonds allowed these things to come into the show, acknowledged them, fixed them and moved on quite calmly.

Edmonds has done a great job in creating strongly fleshed-out characters within a very short time frame. The nuances and mannerisms of these characters are well thought-out and the fifteen minutes per character go by so quickly that you are left wanting more. My only problem was the inclusion of Mental Health – even though it was still funny, I feel with this persona we lost the appealing normality and mundaneness of the stories from the other three characters.

Edmonds’ MICF show The Quarter Cabbage is full of laughs and fun that will leave you wondering where the other ¾ of your own cabbage is going. I warmly recommend it, and give it 4 and ¼ cabbages.

Venue: The Lunch Room, Melbourne Town Hall. Cnr Swanston & Collins Sts, Melbourne

Season: Until 21 April | Tues-Sat 8:30pm, Sun 7:30pm

Tickets: $26 Full | $24 Concession

Bookings: http://www.ticketmaster.com.au, http://www.comedyfestival.com.au, 1300 660 013 or at the door


It’s the little things in life…

By Adam Tonking

Prepare yourself for an avalanche of cute. The Cautionary Tale of Barry Von Peabody and the Scarlet St Theatre is an epic tale of death and redemption, about a child from Berlin in 1938 who grows up to sacrifice everyone he loves as rebellion against his strict German father. And it’s performed by Jacob Williams’ adorable and tiny little puppets.

The story itself sounds bleak and depressing, but ultimately the story is unimportant, and not even particularly well told. The focus here is the gorgeous puppets, and the artistry of Williams and his tiny little theatre. There is just no end to the detail Williams has put into his show – tiny little red velvet curtains on a tiny little stage with tiny little footlights and gargoyles. And it is damn cute.

The characters are eccentric-looking creatures, and Williams brings them to life through his impressive talent. After all this is an epic tale, covering several decades, different locations, and many different characters. All of this is manipulated by Williams alone: the cast, the set-changes, lighting cues, the special effects – he even manages to involve the audience. It is a monumental feat, and Williams pulls it off brilliantly.

Restricting the audience to fifteen at a time I assume was mainly for the logistics of ensuring everyone could see the tiny little puppets, but it also lent the show a sense of intimacy and comradery, not only with the audience but with the puppets and the puppetmaster as well. The novelty of all this adorableness never grows tiresome, and even stretches to cover any gaps in pacing and storytelling. This is all about the cute characters, adorable staging, and the clever manipulator Williams. Sit back, admire the technical brilliance, and prepare to say “Awwww!” a lot.

The Cautionary Tale of Barry Von Peabody and the Scarlet St Theatre is on at La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton 3053 from Tuesday 10 April till Sunday 22 April, at 6.30pm Tuesday, 8.30pm Wednesday, 9pm Thursday and Friday, and 4pm Saturday and Sunday. Book at www.lamama.com.au or by calling 9347 6142.


Frank and funny, with an unforgettable finale

By Bradley Storer

Entering in complete darkness Jenny Wynter begins her cabaret, An Unexpected Variety Show, exhorting her audience to reflect in the dark on their own lives and choices, before launching into the opening song bearing the same title as the show, marvelling at the many twists and turns one life can take.

This autobiographical show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival takes us on a tour of episodes of Wynter’s life, broken up with a wide stylistic range of original songs.

The main theme is the attempt to reconcile youthful dreams of fame and success with the responsibilities of adulthood. There are hilarious numbers about youthful affairs, mother/daughter relationships, and married life all interspersed with costumes changes and (at one inspired moment) puppetry.

While always maintaining a mercurial atmosphere, Wynter does not shy from quite confronting material even from the beginning, touching on her experiences as a young mother, the death of a close family member as a child, and the struggle to balance family life and life as a performer.

Wynter gives off the brassiness and bravado of a veteran showgirl, but with the mature vulnerability of one for whom the show has ended years before. While not always strong vocally, she has the distinct features and versatile singing voice of a classic character actress, ably jumping from a throaty and voluptuous saloon song to a Tina Turner-style soul number and even rapping with aplomb.

While it may not be not mind-blowing, Wynter is a charming performer and has written a show with a big heart and many beautiful moments throughout, in particular one gorgeous and touching segment where Wynter harmonizes with the voice of her own mother (herself a singer), with the finale leaving a smile which is impossible to erase.

Venue: The Butterfly Club, 204 Bank St, South Melbourne

Dates: April 10th – 22nd

Time: Tuesday/Wednesday/Sunday 6pm, Thursday/Friday/Saturday 7pm

Tickets: At The Butterfly Club, or online at www.thebutterflyclub.com

Full $27
Concession $24
Group (8 or more) $23
Tightarse Tuesday $15

Review: CELIA PACQUOLA is Delayed

Tons of charm, and hilarious story-telling

By Myron My

Celia Pacquola is brilliant and I will explain why. Her Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Delayed is full of energy and spark. Pacquola has quite a skill in storytelling and you can really see her getting into the moment as she relays the misadventures of her life as an expat in London.

Most notably this is seen in her eyes which express so much: almost a life of their own! In fact, if there were an award for the comedian with the most expressive eyes, Pacquola would win without a doubt.

Thankfully though, she doesn’t fall into the trap a lot of female comedians do and begin talking about being desperate or terrible with men. Pacquola looks at other much hard-hitting subjects like flight attendants who control time, bitch hair and lies our parents told us.

Covering quite an array of topics in 60 minutes could make for a bit of a convoluted and haphazard (word of the day) set, but Pacquola makes it all flow rhythmically and tie in with her long-term long-distance relationship story arc.

The intimacy of the room – helped by the full house – added to the relationship Pacquola established with her audience as she successfully talks about her two-year gap year without ever boring us. With extra shows being added due to popular demand, Pacquola’s show is one that cannot be missed.

Pacquola mentioned in her show that using your thumbs in a dance move will always make it look bad, because thumbs make anything look bad. I would like to prove her wrong and give two thumbs up for Delayed (and yes, I made a dad joke).

Melbourne Town Hall
Until 22 April
Tue-Sat 8.30pm
Sun 7.30pm
Fri 13th & Sat 14th April 6pm
Full Fri & Sat $28
Full Wed-Thu
Full Sun $26
Ticketmaster 1300 660 013