Edinburgh Review: Mr Swallow – The Musical

Mr Swallow

Update 12/2/15 - the show is now called Dracula! (Mr Swallow – The Musical). It has just opened at the Soho Theatre and immediately extended its run until March 7. Ticket details here.

Pleasance Dome

****

I’ve never quite got Nick Mohammed. He always seems to be trying too hard to do something different, too high concept. In the past I’ve seen him do a show about space travel, a bit of Derren Brown mentalism and try various characters, but I’ve been unmoved. This year though, he has finally won me over with a daft-as-a-brush crowdpleasing musical about Dracula featuring his recurring monster Mr Swallow, a full supporting cast and a Chinese takeaway.

Mohammed has kept the premise simple and it works a treat. His power-crazed creation – part-strangulated Frank Sidebottom, part-egomaniacal delusionist Count Arthur Strong, yet totally original – is starring in the aforementioned sub-Phantom of the Opera bonanza. But before opening night they have to have one final, shambolic, catastrophic run-through, which is what we see.

It’s a familiar am-dram-cock-up trope and, of course, it’s hard to do something badly this well. Petty tyrant Swallow gets irate at the slightest thing. Even when he is relaxed he sounds frantic. He cuts his leading man’s solo number, then reinstates it with ludicrous consequences. He – or is it Mohammed? – chooses to play various other characters, including a scene-stealing Scouse immigration official. There are various other delights, but you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out about those.

The supporting cast, which includes deadpan musical comic David Elms, is also very effective. They can actually sing and dance, which is necessary at times, and there are some genuinely catchy songs played by the live band, underlining that there is more to this than just pure knockabout chaos. But this is very much Mohammed’s vehicle. His vampiric make-up is dripping from the moment he makes his sweaty grand entrance and his fangs seem to have a life of their own. 

In many ways Mr Swallow – The Musical is utterly throwaway but that doesn’t matter when it is such fun. There is a knowing element to it too of course, evoking Pappy’s at their playful, puerile best. Compared to the endless stand-up sets at the Fringe it feels particularly spectacular. The last time I saw something as stupidly brilliant as this it was Garth Marenghi’s mocky horror show over a decade ago. And, lest we forget, Marenghi won an Edinburgh Comedy Award…

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