After the success of 2014’s Dracula – The Musical, Mr Swallow is back for another stab at musical theatre. The conceit of Houdini is that Mr Swallow has somehow been allowed to headline a biographical musical of the the world’s most famous escapologist. Given that Mr Swallow is egotistical, brattish and highly unprofessional, Houdini’s assistants (played by David Elms and Kieran Hodgson) are forever exasperated but gamely try to keep the musical from falling apart completely. It’s a conceit that allows for brilliant parodies of actors, musicals and magic, and is a completely satisfying musical in itself.
Mr Swallow, aka Nick Mohammed, is a wonderful character, barely paying any attention to the musical he’s supposed to be leading, preferring to go off on mad tangents. Mr Swallow gets all the best gags, but Elms and Hodgson are just as good as the straight men. Elms seethes with annoyance and disbelief at Mr Swallows antics, and Hodgson’s sweet, naive orphan suffers the most embarrassment of all of them. All three are pitch perfect, and the musical numbers are as technically impressive as they are funny.
There’s rarely a dull moment, aside from Hodgon’s showcase song that unfortunately goes on for a bit too long. The conclusion, though, is a thrilling bit of business. On top of everything else, the feats of magic and escapism in the show is remarkable. It all adds up to a very funny and spectacular show, suitable for everyone. Great fun.
★★★★ (and a half)