Cord in the act

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The Independent Culture
When the Umbilical Brothers first came to Britain, at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago, their reputation spread quickly. It wasn't the reviews that did it, though these were uniformly good. Or even the enthusiastic word of mouth. What alerted people so swiftly to the manic Australian double-act was hearing them perform in the theatre next door. You would be sitting through a Latvian version of A Midsummer Night's Dream when suddenly the most extraordinary sounds would rip through the walls - chainsaws, explosions, the buzz of a huge flying insect - all followed by a great gust of laughter. Obviously, something strange was happening elsewhere in the building: something a lot more fun than the show for which you'd just shelled out seven quid. The Umbilicals have been making noises ever since with their unique strand of physical comedy. Last year in Edinburgh they were nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award for comedy, and this week in London they embark on their first West End season. Heaven by Storm, the tale of two men's attempt to get into the celestial city, is a show that politically incorrect parents can take their children to and wallow in themselves. Armed with just a couple of microphones, Shane Dundas and Dave Collins delight in the sounds of bombs and bullets: the booms, whooshes and ack-ack-ack noises that small boys love to make in school playgrounds. In their world of cartoon violence, even a sneeze can become a lethal weapon, and the Road Runner stands a good chance of ending up on the barbecue before the evening's out. Like the best animation, it's surreal, funny and very, very cruel.

ADRIAN TURPIN

'Heaven by Storm', Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London WC2 (0171-836 2132) to 16 Mar

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