While Nick Mohammed’s third outing as manic-but-endearing northern magician Mr Swallow lacks the impressive escapology set pieces of its predecessor, it in many ways feels like a tighter show. It’s a deliciously silly fusion of comedy and magic, full of the kind of misfiring tricks that require considerable skill to pull off convincingly.
Performing without his two sidekicks and eschewing the big musical numbers of 2016 fringe hit Houdini, the Vanishing Elephant has a more streamlined feel about it, yet it’s definitely not lacking in ambition.
Owing to the problematic absence of an elephant, Mr Swallow presents his audience with a number of thematically apt feats of memory. Where other performers might tackle the phone book or the novels of Dickens, Mr Swallow has memorised the entire menu of Wagamama. He uses familiar magician’s props – the levitating table, say – in amusing ways and, lacking an assistant bar a taciturn stage manager, he has a go at sawing himself in half. He introduces a new character, a psychic who bears a marked vocal resemblance to the League of Gentlemen’s Pam Doove and wonders idly whether he should be doing more material about race before cracking on with the magic.
Mohammed’s shows work as well as they do because they combine love and craft. His mockery of magic’s conventions comes from a place of affection and he deploys exactly the same techniques and strategies as performers like Derren Brown – playing with the prospect of failure, introducing jeopardy into his routines – to winningly silly effect.