Saturday, 10 December 2022

Theatre review:
A Christmas Carol-ish... by Mr Swallow

Two years ago when theatre made an (unsuccessful) attempt to come out of Covid into the lucrative Christmas show season, there was no shortage of adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, something I put down to it being a reliably popular, out-of-copyright story that could be quickly adapted to a wide range of budgets and a wide variety of styles. If anything it's even more ubiquitous in 2022, when for any number of financial reasons it seems wise to play it safe. While I'm generally happy to avoid yet another iteration of the story, there's a couple of versions this year that are so out there they were hard to say no to. Starting with Nick Mohammed (book & lyrics) and Oliver Birch's (music) A Christmas Carol-ish... by Mr Swallow, a deranged musical adaptation by Mohammed's chaotic magician alter-ego and his sidekicks Mr Goldsworth (David Elms) and Jonathan (Kieran Hodgson.)

Unfortunately they haven't actually managed to get the rights to Dickens' story, so have had to throw something together in which Santa can't be arsed delivering the presents this year, and has to be visited by three ghosts to put him back on the right path.

Goldsworth gets cast as the head Elf and Jonathan, in one of many examples of Mr Swallow not having quite understood the assignment, is Rudolf Hess the red-nosed reindeer. Sarah Hadland joins them as Rochelle, a lounge singer hired to beef up the backing vocals, but who's more concerned with plugging her new Christmas album, and halfway through the show starts doing her makeup for the production of Cats she's appearing in afterwards. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Santa to watch the company write the play's script, while Christmas Present confuses things even further by taking him to a Nativity scene.

We're back in the realm of shows so silly they're almost impossible to review other than to say I loved its utterly unpredictable comedy (Matt Peover's production managing to keep it more tightly controlled than it appears, and Fly Davis' designs also giving the illusion of being thrown together while actually being perfectly set up for some great slapstick moments.) Among Birch's entertaining songs the best include Jonathan's song about reindeer in the style of a sea shanty, and Rochelle's Bonnie Tyler-spoofing ode to a Christmas turkey. But my favourite gag was when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come - the only one to look the way everyone expects it to - turns up: "Mr Goldsworth, wake up, one of the Scottish Widows has escaped!"

A Christmas Carol-ish by Mr Swallow by Nick Mohammed and Oliver Birch is booking until the 23rd of December at Soho Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Matt Crockett.

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