Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2018 Published 14 August 2018

Edinburgh Review: Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant at Pleasance Courtyard

1 - 26 August 2018

The elephant in the room: Freddie Machin reviews Nick Mohammed’s alter ego Mr Swallow, back with an old-school magic show.

Freddie Machin
Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant at Pleasance Courtyard. Photo: Nick Rutter

Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant at Pleasance Courtyard. Photo: Nick Rutter

Although this is perhaps his most ambitious magic show to date, there is a sense of going back to basics about the Mr Swallow show this year.

When Nick Mohammed’s comedy creation first came to Edinburgh he performed alone, as he does this year, without the cohort of brow-beaten actors who joined him for Dracula and Houdini. He continues to work with them on a TV pilot apparently, but for now he has to settle for a silent stage manager to assist with the saw when he fails to make a clean stab at cutting himself in half.

In that first show, he displayed considerable skill with a series of calculations and number tricks. This year’s show starts and ends with a memory trick. Asking the names of a number of people in the audience which are memorised and reiterated later.

Nick Mohammed is a member of the magic circle, so the vanishing act of the title must be the fulfilment of a considerable ambition. But put the power in the hands of Mr Swallow and the first thing he does is to make a bag of crisps fall from the sky, settling down to eat them as if they were a special treat.

He’s basically a middle aged northern housewife in a man’s body – spirited, opinionated, and consistently hilarious. He reminds me of a story Cilla Black told about going to Downing Street with Julie Goodyear. The first thing Julie said was, “don’t they keep their nets nice and clean.”

It is this minute level of detail which makes Mr Swallow’s observations, and peculiar take on life so funny and so familiar. He performs a second act of memorisation half way through the show, challenging himself to remember not a deck of cards, or stops on the London underground, but the menus of high street restaurants.

He uses it as an opportunity to poke fun at Wagamama in particular – “I can’t pull the bench in,” he complains, “I don’t know these people!”

Back in 2012, Mr Swallow had four words of warning for Rio de Janeiro ahead of taking over the Olympic games from London, “It. Comes. Round. Quick.” He said, with a level of authority that suggested he had something to do with the planning.

Planning is not Mr Swallow’s strong point, as this show proves. Every event seems to take him by surprise, not unfolding as it was rehearsed – if it was rehearsed at all. But his reactions are hilarious. Confidently recalling the name of the person on the front row as Amy, it turns out to be Mike, and the look on Mr Swallow’s face is priceless.

Since Houdini, magic has never been particularly fashionable, but couple it with Mr Swallow’s cynical commentary and the audience is amazed and amused in equal part. The elephant in the room of course, is that there’s no elephant in the room, but the finale is no less impressive. We laugh when the trick has apparently gone wrong, and then gasp when he pulls it out of the bag – surprising even himself.

Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant is on at Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August 2018. Click here for more details. 

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Freddie Machin

Freddie wrote the feature film, Chicken, which he adapted from his debut play of the same title. He is a playwright, and creative practitioner regularly delivering projects for organisations across London. www.freddiemachin.com

Edinburgh Review: Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant at Pleasance Courtyard Show Info


Produced by The Pleasance, Nick Mohammed and United Agents

Cast includes Nick Mohammed

Original Music Oliver Birch

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