An evening spent in the company of a gang of ruthless Victorian cutpurses – what could possibly be better? Sarcasm aside, the answer is – not much. For Flabbergast Theatre’s immersive production of The Swell Mob is so much more than just a play about pick-pockets.
To begin with, when they say immersive, they really mean it. This isn’t one of those productions where the company get members of the audience to hold props for them, or shout out suggestions. No, from the minute you step over the grimy threshold of the Colab Factory, you are an integral part of the story. Whether you are gambling away your little store of period coins, watching a boxing match or chatting with a suspiciously friendly little girl, you are unconsciously shaping your destiny – and theirs.
This is not a show for the timid. It would be perfectly possible to lurk in the shadows – there are lots of them – watching the world go by, or to simply use the show as an opportunity to drink lots of the excellent gin on offer, but I promise you, it would be a terrible waste if you did. To really make the most of this production you have to talk to people, whether that be members of the cast or your fellow theatre-goers. For it quickly becomes clear that this is no normal raucous evening in a Victorian pub; there is a sinister mystery to be solved, and it’s all up to you. Information is rarely volunteered by the paranoid and secretive cast; you need to seek it out, asking probing questions, rifling through drawers, sneaking into secret chambers.
Fear not, however; the cast are (mainly) friendly and approachable, despite their fearsome makeup and costume. They are also excellent at staying in character in the face of nonsensical questions, and at expertly, imperceptibly guiding you to where you need to go.
Being a Flabbergast production, there is, of course, puppetry involved, of which I will say little except that it is macabre, disturbing and brilliantly manipulated. There is also a horrifyingly realistic boxing match, not to be missed!
The luxuriantly gothic set is spread over two floors, so there are lots of intriguing nooks and crannies to investigate in the dim, flickering lamplight. There is also a plethora of clues to find; but which are pertinent to your investigation, and which are red herrings? Expect to spend much of the evening rushing up and down stairs, breathlessly sharing information that you have discovered with other equally over-excited people.
Since the audience are integral to the narrative, and the audience changes every night, so does the plot. This means that, should you choose to attend the performance several times, it is unlikely that you would see the same denouement twice. This is testament to the originality, flexibility and sheer bonkers-ness of cast and crew, and, I must admit, I’m sorely tempted to go back and become, once again, part of their dark and fascinating world.
Review by Genni Trickett
Flabbergast Theatre, are the creators of; Boris & Sergey: puppetry’s Balkan bad boys and “the greatest vaudevillian double act ever conceived for the small stage” Tatterdemalion, the award-winning puppetry, physical comedy, and mime performance and Skrimshanks the bizarre buffoon immersive theatre Fringe hit.
Now they bring their award-winning 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit to London for a three month run at the COLAB Factory, London Bridge.
Flabbergast presents their newest and perhaps their boldest creation to date – an explosive immersive theatrical experience, as dark as it is fun. They bring you; The Swell Mob.
“Who would suppose, for example, that those young men at the corner, dressed in the height of the Cockney fashion, bedizened with mosaic jewellery, and puffing their cigars, are members of the swell mob – thieves, in short, and pickpockets?” (From The World of London, by John Murray, in Blackwoods Magazine, August 1841) Audiences are invited to dress up to the nines and submerge themselves in the delights of an 1800s tap-room, to dance, sing, gamble, and cheat their way through a decaying world. Swig a London Porter and become the Hero, or swill Bathtub Gin and relish in the carousel.
Award-winning Clown, Puppetry and Cabaret combine to create a murky world of dandies and deception, in this delightful, provocative and utterly immersive theatre experience.
THE SWELL MOB
4th May – 25th August
THE COLAB FACTORY
COLAB Factory, 74 Long Lane, London SE14AU
7:00pm (Thursday to Sunday)
8:45pm (Thursday to Saturday)
Running Time: 75 mins