Nick Mohammed Presents The Very Best and Worst of Mr Swallow: an ungraspable but irresistible comic creation

Nick Mohammed as Mr Swallow - Corinne Cumming
Nick Mohammed as Mr Swallow - Corinne Cumming

Despite being a fixture of UK comedy for well over a decade, Nick Mohammed’s most enduring character, Mr Swallow, remains a creation with no central thesis. Aware that he might have picked up some new fans due to his high-profile role in Ted Lasso, Mohammed lets us know that this will be “a very different show,” but in terms of actually pinning down the concept, he’ll only venture that Mr Swallow is “kind of a cross between Bonnie Langford and the crab from the Little Mermaid”. For any newbies attempting to calibrate their expectations, it’s a hilariously uninformative set of coordinates.

The character’s essential elements are a squirrelly excitability verging on hysteria, plus a high-pitched West Yorkshire accent, apparently both based on Mohammed’s old science teacher growing up in Leeds. He also performs the whole show on rollerskates, introducing the jeopardy that he might roll down the canted stage into the audience at any point.

Most comic characters draw strength from their context, but Mr Swallow doesn’t really have any of that, and it gives him a malleability that’s taken him to some strange places. Most recently, he became a stage magician for Houdini and the star of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. This tour is a best-of show, combining old and new material, but primarily taking him back to his roots as a motivational speaker on memory techniques, although also finding time for a deconstruction of the 12 Days of Christmas, a detailed synopsis of Les Mis, an improvised libretto to the theme of Jurassic Park, and a thousand other delightful tiny jokes that he tosses into the mix.

Perhaps most strikingly, much of the show is structured around parlour tricks taken from the repertoire of a Victorian mentalist. Watch Mr Swallow solve a Rubik’s cube, do complicated sums in seconds, and tug on his hair while memorising the order of a deck of cards. There’s nothing inherently humorous about these bits, but you know what? It’s pure entertainment and genuinely impressive to boot.

On a recent appearance on the Off Menu podcast, Mohammed described Mr Swallow as “such a specific vibe,” which is so accurate to how the character operates: incredible specificity of manner and tone combined with almost no concrete information. He’s really just a funny voice and a delightful set of mannerisms that can be applied to any situation. It’s an approach that has been influential to modern character comedians like Jamie Demetriou, but an hour with Mr Swallow is still a uniquely charming experience.

Also May 21;