”A Christmas Carol-ish by Mr Swallow” at the Soho Theatre with Nick Mohammed – review

Nick Mohammed in A Christmas Carol-ish
Nick Mohammed in A Christmas Carol-ish
© Matt Crockett

In A Christmas Carol-ish, Charles Dickens’ tale serves as a coat hanger on which Nick Mohammed’s alter ego Mr Swallow stars as Scrooge as Santa. A mix of Scrooge’s story enacted by Santa and his helpers, as well as forays into the nativity and metatheatrical backstage bickering, it’s hard to say what the show is exactly beyond an extravaganza of high-spirited silliness. As we enter the auditorium, Christmas pop classics play and a pair of giant candy canes frame a sparkly pink curtain (Fly Davis provides an effectively kitschy set design that calls to mind Christmas and Valentine’s Day) – this isn’t going to be an extravaganza of whimsical Victoriana.

Coming to this show with no prior knowledge of Ted Lasso star Mohammed’s comedy, it’s possible to ascertain that Mr Swallow is Northern and rather narcissistic, lazy and childlike. With the Dickens estate refusing Swallow and company permission for a straight version (not because he’s a person of colour, they assure us), they try to get around it by making Santa a grumpy old sod who exploits his elves and reindeer and needs to be visited by three ghosts (they can only afford one costume) so he can see the error of his ways. The redemption narrative never comes to fruition.

There’s quick-witted support from Kieran Hodgson as the long-suffering Jonathan, whose name Mr Swallow can never remember even though he’s worked with him for years, and David Elms as the quietly exasperated Mr Goldsmith. Providing the glamour is former Miranda co-star Sarah Hadland as cabaret star Rochelle, resplendent in a sequinned jumpsuit, who’s often found singing on cruise ships (or at cremations) as well as serving as a super swing for all Andrew Lloyd Webber productions worldwide.

A teetering tower of presents looks as if it could topple at any moment amidst the exuberance. The songs with music by Oliver Birch and lyrics by Mohammed are jaunty if overlong: the most memorable numbers are the one about a love affair between a human and a turkey, as well as the ballad of the sad plight of Santa’s reindeer who have dropped off one by one of overwork. As the show demonstrates, claps for key workers are no substitute for decent living and working conditions.

Matt Peover’s production is lively throughout but a more coherent storyline amidst the chaotic presentation wouldn’t go amiss. The characters observe that it’s quite confusing – metatheatricality is a lot of fun but needs careful consideration to transcend simple larking about.

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