Style: The Dark Side of Vaudville
Where: Colab Factory
When: Until end July.
Flabberghast Theatre have created a stunning world for The Swell Mob. The world of an 1840 den of iniquity, it is dark and colourful, bejewelled and cheap, murky and fascinating.
From the entry to the upstairs space to the many times I discovered new hidden spaces I hadn’t quite noticed before, exploring The Swell Mob was a marvellous part of the action. But it was not the only part. There was gambling, bare-knuckle fighting and secret missions aplenty to be carried out. There were fascinating characters and even an evil puppet.
What there isn’t is enough time to really appreciate it. Immersive theatre has a rhythm and when you build a world as sumptuous as this, that rhythm is slow. It is about exploring, about drinking the whole thing in. About soaking it in as much with your senses as with your mind.
Here we didn’t really get the chance to do that. There was genuine surprise from everyone when it ended. Many had not completed the missions they were working on (us included) and this was compounded when we were moved out of the bar space quite quickly to allow the next group in. All of which is quite an immersive no-no in my experience.
The Swell Mob started life on the Edinburgh fringe and as such that probably explains the length. fringe shows aren’t very long and so this would not have seemed unusual there. But here – and especially at Colab that currently hosts The Great Gatsby and has previously hosted For King and Country this was unusual, unexpected and a little unwelcome.
There’s so much in this production I want to go back and explore. But for me, I would rather pay more for a longer show. If they could get the economics of doing one – much longer – show a night right, then they could and I am confident would, have a 5 star hit on their hands. As someone keen for more, I really hope they do.
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