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Nick Mohammed is Mr Swallow: 2012
Published on Thursday, 23 August 2012
3

3 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Comedy
1-26 Aug, 6:00pm-7:00pm
Reviewed by Natasha Frost

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Recommended for age 16+ only.

To those unfamiliar with Nick Mohammed's work as a character comedian, he is, at first, arrestingly strange. In the guise of Mr Swallow, mathematician and lecturer, he adopts a broad regional accent (is it Yorkshire?) tempered by a hand-flapping campness that suggests that this is not an act. The theme of the evening, accompanied by a rather erratic PowerPoint presentation, is 'numbers', and all of the self-conscious geekery that goes alongside it. There is, naturally, a Rubik's cube. It is hard to know where Nick begins and Mr Swallow ends – and further confusion is added to the mix when he attempts a lamentably lengthy impression of his sighing female accountant.

Perhaps this all sounds rather damning, but it really oughtn't to. Nick Mohammed, as Mr Swallow, is very clever, very very funny, and very very very good at what he does. Veteran fans, of whom there are many, start queuing forty minutes before the beginning of the show, and every joke falls on totally receptive ears. Mohammed integrates classic elements of stand-up into his routine, with lengthy deviations from the topic at hand becoming an effective vehicle for puns, mathematical gymnastics, and even at times literal gymnastics. It is, quite factually, a funny mix. When it works, this is very successful, and quite unlike anything else you are likely to see at the Fringe.

However, it does go on. Mohammed is a very nice man, but his Mr Swallow is, if not out-and-out unpleasant, a little irksome. To spend an hour with him (even with the brief foray into accountancy, and impressive arithmetic skills) begins to jar. The show is intentionally rather shambolic: this is no bad thing, but seems messy and a little hard to fathom over a performance of this length. I would have liked to have seen Mohammed extending his repertoire to other comedic profiles, or, failing that, the excision of the accountant altogether, in an attempt to tighten up the Swallow show.

It seems important to note, however, that what Mohammed is doing here is tremendously sophisticated. I hesitate to use expressions like 'the future of comedy', not least because I am not entirely sure how anyone else could do this kind of show quite as successfully. However, character comedy opens up more traditional stand-up, in this case, in a hugely exciting way. If you've liked his earlier work, you are sure to like this; if you haven't seen it before, this is more than worth your time; and if you've previously found him not to be quite your cup of tea, you may be better off sitting down, having a quiet pint, and waiting for it all to blow over.

Nick Mohammed has been on the comedy circuit for roughly a decade, yet is barely into his thirties. If his work continues to be this exciting and original then, in Mr Swallow's terms, the limit approaches infinity.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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