Am dram provides a lot of chuckles at the Fringe. You could spend a large part of your festival tittering at poorly conceived, under-rehearsed, and bombastically overstated musicals. So when one comes along which fully intends to be crumby, you’re expecting a total car wreck. That’s the hope for ‘Mr Swallow – The Musical’, a hammy take on ‘Dracula’ starring Nick Mohammed as the eponymous Mr – who in turn is starring as the saturnine Count. The whole farce is underpinned by a mix of low drama and high camp, meaning the show opens with a patchily made-up Mr Swallow shuffling down the venue stairs on roller-skates in a budget homage to ‘Starlight Express’.
Featuring a four-person cast and a five-piece band, this is a proper production. In fact, the bits which do play like a straight-up musical are quite convincing, if not particularly entertaining. The gem-like comedy moments that lie within this hour appear in between the scene changes, when Mr Swallow – the OMG-ing diva dimwit of the otherwise earnest cast – constantly breaks from his role to make off-the-cuff changes to the script, offer soul-destroying criticism or even introduce new characters. Cue Mr Swallow popping up bewigged as a travel agent, and declaring himself ‘an independent woman’, before brushing off his director’s complaints about the change in direction: ‘“Les Mis” started off as “Billy Elliot” in previews!’
Mohammed is typically brilliant as his alter-ego – a character with whom the former Footlights member wowed the Fringe in 2010. His deft, physical gags are consistently hilarious (as when Dracula ‘flies’ through the window, held aloft by that same sweaty and suffering director). He inhabits Mr Swallow completely, giving off waves of obnoxious energy and, inevitably, stealing the show. In the end Mr Swallow emerges as a kind of scruffy Northern Prospero – not just a player in the drama, but an author too, capable of telling the story in his own inimitable and infuriatingly chirpy way. It all gets a bit meta at the end, proving that this isn’t just an ambitious staging off a spoof musical, it’s an ambitious play full stop.
It’s a clever spectacle, therefore, but not one which really grabs you, simply because it never settles into a groove. The farcical bits are funny, but they’re too few within an over-egged conceit. In the end ‘Mr Swallow – The Musical’ strays dangerously close to being one of the pat productions it’s attempting to parody. An fun effort, but one which is neither good nor bad enough to be truly memorable.
‘Mr Swallow – The Musical’ is at the Pleasance Dome, 7pm