He’s mastered Houdini’s escape tricks, sang his heart out as Dracula, and this year Mr Swallow is going to make an elephant disappear. Is there anything he can’t do?
It’s the elephant in the room. How can Edinburgh Fringe darling Mr Swallow top his all-singing, all-dancing Dracula musical of four years ago? Or his 2016 Houdini performance, which saw him dramatically free himself from chains and a water tank? For his most spectacular show yet, Nick Mohammed’s excitable, misguided alter-ego is back performing solo. Except, that is, for his new co-star, Hayley the elephant, whom he’s pledged to make disappear.
Quite how this will be accomplished, Mohammed – a Magic Circle member currently writing his second children’s novel about magicians – is keeping cloaked with a veil of secrecy. “We’re still trying to work some things out” he sighs.
The camp, vainglorious, gaffe-prone Mr Swallow “is suddenly in the hands of another big machine of a show that he can’t quite control, but he’s trying his best”.
As the voice of a “very sweet, hesitant and childlike” Piglet in Disney’s live-action feature Christopher Robin, after recent comic turns in Bridget Jones’s Baby and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the irrepressible Mohammed scarcely needs the Fringe to boost his career.
“But I adore it, I absolutely love it,” he maintains. “The motivation is obviously slightly different to when I first started [as part of the Cambridge Footlights in 2004]. I just want the creative freedom, especially now that Mr Swallow has found an audience in Edinburgh and London. I feel like I can do things on a grander scale. Besides, being on the front line, presenting yourself to an audience is still such a thrill. And a challenge. I’ve got so much more to say as Mr Swallow. I’ll keep coming until I’ve no longer got new ideas for him.”' I’ve got so much more to say as Mr Swallow'Click To Tweet
A huge fan of Michael Crawford’s daredevil physical comedy, he reveals “there’s a routine in this new show that’s a bit hairy in terms of the danger side of it”. In defence of these antics, he says, “I’m a strong believer in throwing in as many gimmicks as Mr Swallow can get away with. Because he’s so distracted and flitty, he just goes from one thing to another.
“The concluding joke with him is always that he can actually do the thing that you assume he can’t. There’s a lot of fun to be had in promising something, undermining it and being unable to deliver. But then showing you can in a roundabout way at the end.”
From appearing as an English butler in a starry, transatlantic cast for Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms to playing a chemistry teacher in Joe Cornish’s upcoming children’s movie The Kid Who Would Be King, Mohammed’s latest film choices have been influenced by him becoming a father of two young boys.
Even so, he’s also about to appear in long-time collaborator Julia Davis’ black bisexuality comedy Sally4Eva for Sky and HBO, is writing a sitcom about GCHQ spooks with a big American television star attached and is piloting a Mr Swallow chat show for Channel 4.
“We’re filming that in the autumn,” the workaholic comic sighs again. “We were going to try to squeeze it in before Edinburgh. But it’s just not been possible with all these vanishing elephants.”
WHERE & WHEN
Mr Swallow and the Vanishing Elephant Pleasance Courtyard, 1-26 August, 7.30pm, from £7