The Rehearsal

(Powerhouse Theatre)


Devised and performed by The Umbilical Brothers (David Connors and Shane Dundas)

Professional production

The audience sat there, hands clasped, repeating the following prayer as dictated by Shane (or possibly Dave – I forget):

“I pray that nobody finds out that I am not totally 100% committed to this prayer.”

If you can make sense of that, then you can make sense of this show, where the manic Umbilical Brothers try out on a gob-smacked but totally appreciative audience the rehearsal process for a show that may or may not come together one day.

The point is that nobody can make sense of it, and there’s the joke – a very funny joke, which had the audience guffawing at the sheer stupidity of it. You don’t need to understand it, because it appeals to the anarchic streak in all of us, where nothing much matters, nothing really happens, and there is no message or narrative of any kind.

That may, of course, be the meaning. “What level are you aiming at?” Dave asks Shane (or is it the other way around?) as they mime their way up and down in a lift, exiting to stare at the dumbfounded audience on level 1 (us), and then going up to regard an equally dumbfounded lot on level 7 (also us).

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it,” as the Duchess said to Alice, and Wonderland is where we are with this show, because there’s a moral/meaning for everything/nothing, depending on how you look at it.

Most of the audience just looked, rather than thought, for the twisted logic and physical zaniness of this talented pair demand nothing except that you relax into the show and forget about what it means. This a frenzied reason, the world of the small child where everything is funny as long as it doesn’t happen to them, the world of technology gone mad.

This is not to suggest that there isn’t great creativity and skill behind all the mayhem. The control the performers have over their physical behaviour and the technology belies the surface chaos. It’s not easy to put your face in front of a camera and have yourself, and your wombat glove puppet, become King Kong, the rising moon, or a snow mountain, especially when the other half of you is interacting live in front of the screen with the projected images. You’ll never look at those soft furry glove puppets from the toy shop in quite the same way again. It may seem like anarchy, but these boys are in total control.

They also manage to send up an entire tradition of comic routines. The woman in the audience who keeps interrupting – is she a plant, or what? When they come and hit her over the head with a soft loaf from Brumby’s, is she really hurt, and is she going out to consult her lawyer? She leaves, talking loudly on her mobile, and we still aren’t sure what this is all about until later in the show when she calls in from the Boondall Entertainment Centre (another running joke) to complain again.

“I don’t know!” says Shane. “You pay someone to disrupt your show, and what do they do ? …. Disrupt your bloody show.”

Most of the time I had no idea what was going on, but it didn’t matter. How long since you’ve had an experience in the theatre where you didn’t have to think at all and where, if you tried to make sense of it, the experience was ruined? Quite simply, The Rehearsal is totally mad, and I can only return to Alice, this time in conversation with the Cheshire Cat.

“They’re both mad,” said the Cat.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

‘Nuff said. If you’re young and anarchic, or even middle-aged and unprejudiced, go and see it. And all you freshers out there at Orientation Week, just remember that creative anarchy like this is far more fun than burning flags.

Enjoy already.

Directed by the performers

Playing Tuesday to Sunday at 7.30pm until Saturday 4 March 2006

Duration: 80 minutes, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Mon 20th February 2006)