Nick Mohammed @ Pleasance Courtyard
Mr Swallow returns to Pleasance on spectacular form.
“Who doesn’t love the circus?” is the question Nick Mohammed’s Mr Swallow asks. The answer in this case, going by the response in the Pleasance tonight – which veers between fits of laughter and awed silence – is no one. Houdini, a hysterically funny vaudeville stage show that’s semi-biographical and part-musical, takes the piss out of magic before wowing you with it moments later. It’s goofy, but seriously impressive and nerve-wracking at the same time.
Mohammed said that the ensemble element of Mr Swallow’s Dracula musical of two years ago was liberating, and once again the dynamic of the group is a joy to watch in Houdini. As Mr Swallow’s assistants both David Elms and Kieran Hodgson are terrific, with the former deploying world-weary stoicism and the latter engaging in more high jinks. Alongside the attention seeking protagonist – who’s undoubtedly the star of the show, if not the Fringe – they provide equilibrium, as well as some showstopper moments in their own right.
The musical direction is expertly judged too, with Freddie Tapner doing well to keep a straight face while holding fort at the piano. Between the opening repetitions of The Entertainer, and the ominous humming that precedes the Chinese Water Torture finale, the songs recall the jovial moments in Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas score – in other words a perfect foil for a word heavy whistlestop tour of Houdini’s life.
It’s an hour that flies by, and leaves you with a genuine sense of elation at its climax. “How did I do that?” Mr Swallow wonders, aloud. I genuinely have no idea. A magnificent performance.