Book and Lyrics: Nick Mohammed
Music: Oliver Birch
Director: Matt Peover
You certainly cannot fault Nick Mohammed’s ambition when searching for a festive story for his most famous comedy character Mr Swallow. He combines the three biggest yuletide tales – Santa, Scrooge and the Nativity – into comedy musical A Christmas Carol-ish… by Mr Swallow with music by Oliver Birch. Familiarity with Mr Swallow and his world is certainly not a pre-requisite for this, often hilarious, meta mash-up which is likely to please long-standing fans as well as winning a few new ones.
Unable to convince the Dickens’ estate to permit a new version of A Christmas Carol, Mr Swallow and his faithful team are forced to perform a modified edition in which Santa stands in for Scrooge. The lazy Father Christmas has had enough of children and would rather just go to sleep, but the three ghosts have other ideas. Well, they would if Mr Swallow’s friends Mr Goldsworth, Jonathan and cruise singer Rochelle would stop interrupting.
Performed at the Soho Theatre, this festive special is a treat in which the original comedy characters try to put on a play and find their real selves keep getting in the way. From comments on the writing to a recurring joke about forgetting Jonathan’s name and frustrated Rochelle trying to promote her latest album of seasonal tunes, the meta intrusions are a lot of fun often involving enormous digressions from Dickens’ famous structure, but no one minds a bit.
Mohammed and Birch have created some great songs for each character most of which are in the context of the Santa story and largely in a traditional musical theatre style. But within the world of Mr Swallow, Sarah Hadland steals the show with Rochelle’s Christmas power ballad about a 25-stone turkey that is absolutely bonkers and completely irrelevant to everything else but is hands down the funniest moment of the show nonetheless. And as is tradition in musical theatre, the songs return for a combined medley at the end, earning the enthusiastic applause.
The jokes are a mix of one liners – including a nice reference to Alan Rickman’s character in Die Hard falling off a skyscraper and repeated gags about production running costs – some audience participation as well as jokes with more elaborate set-ups including a head-spinning scene in which the characters act out Santa’s past (the planning of the show) while present day Santa and the Mr Swallow world interact all at the same time
Mohammed gives a sprightly performance that grafts the Mr Swallow character nicely onto the Scroogey-Santa trope while retaining the essential personality of his original creation. David Elms does the same with the exasperated Mr Goldsworth trying to play three ghosts in the same costume and keeping Mr Swallow on track with the story while Kieran Hodgson is a pitiable Jonathan and the fantastic Hadland is a showstopper as Rochelle.
Invariably with a show of this nature, some of the jokes don’t always land and there are some elongated moments without a laugh but with a glittery, theatre-y backdrop of pure Christmas created by Fly Davis, the energy and creativity of A Christmas Carol-ish… by Mr Swallow is certainly self-sustaining.
Runs until 23 December 2022