I first encountered Mr Swallow when I was dragged to see Dracula the musical. I say dragged because my ticket pal for the night had led me to believe that it was a straight performance and I could think of nothing worse than an upbeat musical re-telling of one one of the greatest gothic horror stories of all time.
An hour, a tonne of laughter and, yes, even a few tears later and I was a convert to the wonderful theatrical world of Mr Swallow and genuinely couldn’t wait to see what he would come up with next. That turned out to be Houdini and I was not disappointed.
Whilst the audience file in –a slow process as always at Soho, why do we now have seat numbers? – Mr Swallows sits in a glass box in the centre of the stage reading a book about the history of Houdini. A physical metaphor that perfectly sums up the show – it’s all about Mr Swallow and he isn’t really fully prepared.
The show is a mix of enjoyable show tunes (with nods to classics), put downs, dance numbers, camp exclamations and Tommy Cooper style magic that is both genuinely impressive and made brilliantly funny by our stars constant shock at every successful trick.
Most impressive of all for me was the actual escapology which belies our stars constant mask of inability.
Nick Mohammed has created a character that allows him to display all of his skills without it feeling like either bragging or an audition for things to come. Having two different types of straight man on stage with him is a stroke of genius as it allows him to play the ‘Costello’ to Goldsworth’s ‘Abbot’ (David Elms) whilst at the same time the ‘Hardy’ to Johnathon’s ‘Laurel’ (Kieran Hodgson). The combination works and the loving nod to the days of Vaudeville where performers had to offer so much more to capture their audience is both a fitting homage and a wonderful thing to behold.
This clown is a ‘must see’ performer.
Clown Stars: *****
@Soho Theatre, London