★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Audiences can't help but fall in love with Mr Swallow.
Nick Mohammed's 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show Houdini was a highlight of my Fringe experience that year, so I was delighted when I heard he was returning as his alter ego Mr Swallow with another Houdini inspired show.
This time it's Houdini's vanishing elephant trick which gets the Mr Swallow treatment in Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant. Helped on stage by David Elms and Kieran Hodgson in 2016, this time he's going it alone.
Well, not quite alone. There's stage hand Steve who doesn't speak and is there to bring on and take away props, tables mainly. And all this time alone on stage has meant that Mr Swallow has been able to involve the audience a lot more in the show.
Transforming himself into a Liverpudlian psychic, he gives an audience member a hilarious tarot reading (and a Bounty). He also brings three audience members up on stage to test how well he has knows the Wagamama menu and then towards the end, Mr Swallow sees if he can remember the names of those in the front section of his audience.
Has he memorised the entire Wagamama menu? Can he remember the names of the front section of his audience? Does he succeed in making an elephant vanish? Well I wouldn't want to give anything away, (apart from that last one, there is no elephant).
But actually it doesn't matter. It's just a "nice to have". The reason I choose to watch a Mr Swallow show isn't for the tricks, it's to be entertained by a character who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, isn't perfect and is as surprised as we are whenever he gets something right.
In the wrong hands, shrill-voiced Mr Swallow who's full of boundless energy could be really irritating, but Nick has made sure that he isn't. Instead he's lovable. A loveable idiot. And audiences can't help but fall in love with Mr Swallow, filling the sold-out 320 seater room with laughter.
Is it as good as Houdini? Perhaps not, but it's close. It just lacked the skill, tension and scale that Houdini did but as a standalone hour of entertainment, Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant is a wise booking.
One of Nick Mohammed's greatest achievements has been creating the character of Mr Swallow and I'd love to see a lot more of him. Whether that's another show next year or a TV show or a radio series, it doesn't really matter. What I know is that I just don't want Mr Swallow to go away anytime soon!
Mr. Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant runs until 26th August at 7:30pm at The Pleasance Dome (Pleasance One). Book tickets here.
(This review was based on the performance from Friday 17th August 2018)