Fun if fragmented production that immerses you in the seedy side of Victorian London
Flabbergast Theatre have transformed the COLAB theatre, a dimly-lit space along the dusty stretch between Borough and Elephant and Castle, into a sleazy Victorian saloon where gambling, bare-knuckle fighting and dubious employment rights reign supreme. Overseeing all this is the evil master – a puppet with an air of Voldemort before all those Horcruxes – whose dodgy dealings we are here to unmask.
Or at least, I think that’s what we’re here for. Each visit to The Swell Mob is different, the journey you take will depend on the questions you ask, the rooms you dare enter and the tasks you are given by the actors. But whichever route you take, you will be immersed in a world soaked in menace, your (pretend) money lost to the card table or a dodgy bet on the boxing; your courage tested down badly-lit corridors and manically grinning Mozarts.
The idea of The Swell Mob is to get stuck in – the more questions you ask the more information you’ll gather, and knowledge inside this gloomy den of iniquity is even better currency than the coins you’re handed at the beginning. There are riddles to be solved, dark corners to explore and plenty of clues lying in plain sight.
And Swell Mob is certainly fun and hugely atmospheric, the seemingly floating, ghostly head that greets us at the door setting the tone for an afternoon that relies on ambience over narrative.
As a piece of theatre, the production doesn’t quite tie together – it’s more a series of set pieces that rely too heavily on the audience to drive a story we’re not given enough backstory to invest in.
But while it lacks direction and a definitive goal, Swell Mob is enjoyable and imaginative. Go see it to be immersed in its gothic charm and cast of crazy characters – just shake off any inhibitions and follow the chaos.