Review by Harry Bower
Double Emmy-nominated star of Ted Lasso, Nick Mohammed, has been peddling the wares of his alter ego, Mr. Swallow, on the comedy circuit for years now. Having gone viral for his memory tricks on 8 out 10 Cats Does Countdown and some brilliant lockdown comedy sketches, 2023 marks the first time the character has gone out on tour, stopping off at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on the way. With support from the reliably quick-witted and delightfully posh Ivo Graham, Mr. Swallow’s hour long-ish show promised the very best and the very worst of the character, revisiting some old content and introducing new material, in a smorgasbord of entertainment which includes maths, magic, and musical theatre. So, is the show worthy of the character’s notoriety, or would this performance be difficult to swallow?
The first thing you need to know is that Mr. Swallow is irresistibly funny, supremely camp, and sarcastic to a fault. This show is a rampage through the mind of the character as he creatively takes issue with nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, and app age ratings, at breakneck speed. Just in case there is a moment of solitude or calmness, the character ensures the audience can never relax by being on stage for the entire show in a pair of rollerblades, which on a West End theatre stage which happens to be not insignificantly raked, provides ample entertainment. The best way I can describe this show is by telling you to imagine being drunk with a friend – not hammered but drunk enough that you find everything amusing – and then meeting someone who comes out with a load of random statements, facts, and jokes. The things they say objectively might not be funny, but the way they are delivered and the way you receive them make them hilarious. That’s how it feels watching Nick Mohammed as Mr. Swallow.
It is gloriously daft and the character is instantly likeable. Even if, like me, you only know Mohammed from his TV work on the aforementioned Apple TV+ show or his co-writing for Sky One’s hit show Intelligence, you will forever struggle to associate him with anything other than Mr. Swallow immediately following the conclusion of this show. He has a real talent for finding comedy in the understated moments and throwaway lines, and the sense of mischievousness and knowing misdirect is infectious. Even though toward the end I knew there was a twist coming I couldn’t ever have predicted just how clever it was, and how speechless I became thereafter. Having read up now on Mohammed’s background in comedy, magic, and maths (there’s a clue as to the twist), it all makes a little more sense, though I am still incredibly impressed.
This production is split into two main chunks: numbers, and memory. Those familiar with the viral clips will recognise some of the tricks here, but thankfully Mr. Swallow in a live environment adds enough of a scene change and circumstance shift to add fresh perspective to each moment. Whether it’s attempting to solve a Rubix cube, memorising an entire deck of cards, making comical observations about everyday items or circumstances, or committing ten minutes to the plotline of Les Misérables, the show is flush with intelligence and wit. Superb comic timing adds to the often absurd but pointed delivery, the result being that Mr. Swallow usually outwits the audience (without making anyone feel stupid) at the same time as setting up the next three bits in the show without anyone realising.
An exceptional aptitude for mathematics combined with extraordinarily creative comedy writing talent has produced a show which could sometimes be too wacky for even the wackiest of audience members, leaving us breathless as one routine moves into the next. It also leaves us desperate for more. More than just funny, Mohammed and his show will leave their audiences with faces hurting from grinning so much at the sheer stupidity at moments, asking yourself: “how on earth did he come up with this?” It is a joyfully silly night of entertainment.
A middle-aged man in a jumper riding around the stage on rollerblades drawing seemingly meaningless numbers on a whiteboard, singing the theme tune to Jurassic Park and directing a fake orchestra. I didn’t really know what to expect, going into Nick Mohammed Presents The Very Best And Worst Of Mr. Swallow, but I can tell you – it wasn’t that. I am absolutely delighted though that it’s what I got. If Mohammed’s Ted Lasso character is his moody villain, Mr. Swallow is very much his grounded, sarcastic, and hilarious hero – the hero nobody asked for and nobody knew they needed, but the hero we will all be thankful we have.
Nick Mohammed Presents The Very Best and Worst of Mr. Swallow is on tour around the UK until May 2023. Find out more, see dates, and book tickets here: https://www.berksnest.com/nick