The Swell Mob
Reviewed – 9th May 2019
“Although there is clear potential to this show, it needs some improvement before it really hits the mark”
As we stepped into COLAB Factory we were plunged into the mid 19th century, and cast and crew of The Swell Mob urged us to the bar. The ensemble cast’s conviction to their varied and fascinating parts is one of the main strengths of this production. Detailed and rich characters occupy nooks and crannies and wander around, interacting with the audience and telling their stories of how they came to be in the power of the mysterious Master who rules this peculiar place. Large portions of the show are improvised conversations with these characters, although there are moments of more cohesive scripting including an impressively choreographed boxing match.
Flabbergast Theatre’s aesthetic style of the show is in-depth and really does put the ‘immersive’ into ‘immersive theatre’. From the detailed costumes to the even more detailed set, with rooms full of papers and objects to be explored, each audience member gets a different experience depending on where they go and what they do. Who you talk to also makes a big difference, and the cast’s quick thinking and responses to the most unexpected input is to be commended.
Unfortunately the plot of The Swell Mob falls flat, due to its failure to take care of its audience. A tricky element of any immersive theatre in which audience members can wander free is in laying out the rules of the performance in such a way that we can still understand a story from what we have discovered. In this performance the rules were unclear; we were given a bag of coins on entry, but with no sense of how spending them might limit our options later in the show. Even just a more thorough introduction would have been an easy fix, but without it we were left unsure how exactly to proceed.
Crowding is also an issue. In some ways it felt there were not enough actors for audience and several times I came across others at a loss for what to do. Whilst it may be fun to join forces and engage with completely new people, seeking out the entertainment of The Swell Mob is hard, and not always rewarding, work. Although there is clear potential to this show, it needs some improvement before it really hits the mark.
Reviewed by Katy Owen
Photography by Jordan Chandler
The Swell Mob
COLAB Factory until 25th August
Previously reviewed at this venue: