The Swell Mob (3 stars)

The Swell Mob

A chance to be surrounded by bad sorts

A brilliant immersive environment, populated by various characters from a shady underworld of gambling, fighting and oppression, sets The Swell Mob apart from the majority of Fringe shows, with its attempt at plunging the audience into Victorian-style depravity and danger. A collection of dubious characters chat and mingle, occasionally breaking into ensemble performances of a sing-song or bare-knuckle scrap, before concluding in a ritualistic exorcism that whisks them all away back to whatever hell they had been trying to escape.

The powerful conceit – that the audience are encouraged to interact and discover the mysterious power that binds the villains to their puppet overlord – presents a distinctive experience, but one that is not given enough time. Wandering around the set, examining the props and discovering clues makes the hour exciting and immersive: the interactions, however, can sometimes be stilted and rote, despite some strong characterisations.

The effort to break free of traditional formats is admirable and many of the interactions are self-contained and fascinating, but the overall narrative falters before drawing it all together in an ensemble physical theatre routine. The engagement and pleasure of the event depends heavily on the willingness of the audience to get involved, but the mystery is buried too deep to be a satisfying adventure. Yet it remains an enjoyable excursion into the potential of immersive performance.

Assembly George Square Studios, until 26 Aug, various times, £13–£14 (£11–£13).

The Swell Mob

  • 3 stars

Flabbergast Theatre Submerge yourself in the delights of our 1830s taproom; dance, sing, gamble, and cheat through this decaying world. Swig a London porter and become the hero, or swill bathtub gin and relish in the carousel. This night promises to thrill with award-winning clown, puppetry and cabaret. Lose yourself…

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