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Interview with performer Nick Mohammed

8 January 2015 Sarah Fortescue

Comically acclaimed character-performer, Nick Mohammed, is returning with Mr Swallow the Musical, a much-anticipated new solo show at Soho Theatre. Mohammed’s alter ego manic monster is attempting to put on a musical version of Dracula and “he’s useless at pretty much everything”!

London Calling: What can people expect from Mr Swallow the Musical?

Nick Mohammed: It's a musical about a character of mine trying to put on a musical version of Dracula with him as the lead. But - despite being in charge - he's useless at pretty much everything. I'd say it's pretty much a panto through and through! Either that or a very weird, staged cartoon.

LC: You created several characters as part of your routines, before focusing on Mr Swallow and giving him his own show. What was it about him that you favoured?

NM: He's definitely the character I enjoy performing the most, probably because he gives me the most license to completely act up and play an utter idiot! He's also loosely based on a (female) teacher from my old high school and so - for me at least - there's a certain sense of truth to the performance that I find fun to play around with, albeit now rather exaggerated for stage!

LC: Mr Swallow has been referred to as your “manic monster alter ego”. How much of Nick Mohammed is in Mr Swallow?

NM: Ha! Rather worryingly, probably increasing amounts. I do sometimes find myself in sensitive situations where I think "what would be the worst thing to do/say right now?" And that's inevitably a starting point when I come round to writing new material for Mr. Swallow. I don't know if that's a good thing!

LC: There is something wonderfully dramatic, eerie, mysterious and even comical about Dracula, on whom Mr Swallow is based. What was it about him that most appealed to you?

NM: It was crucial that the character at the heart of the musical Mr. Swallow and company were trying to put on was well known, mainly so there wasn't the need for much exposition - so it was beneficial that most people already know the main plot points in the story of Dracula. I did consider other story ideas though, one with Mr. Swallow playing Jesus (not sure how that would have worked out! Plus Jerry Springer: The Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar and the Book of Mormon had kind of cover all areas on this topic already). Ultimately though, there was just something about Dracula and how camp the performance could be that made me laugh. There are actually two pre-existing musicals of Dracula that I'm aware of, both of which weren't successful because - in my opinion - they were played too straight. It's difficult for your lead to sing about blood, guts and creepy stuff, wear a cape and have big teeth and it not be at least a tiny bit silly!

LC:  Mr Swallow: The Musical follows the journey of a rehearsal process – is the ridiculousness of your own experience of rehearsals something you found naturally funny?

NM: A little bit, yes. Certainly when we were all learning how to dance (and bear in mind NONE of us knew how to dance before!) I mean that was always very funny, and in many ways a little bit terrifying as we got closer to the opening night! Plus actors not knowing their lines I've always found funny. There's a real sense of vulnerability when you know someone doesn't really know what to say, where to stand, where to look...! And so hopefully some of that is captured in the show.

LC:  When did you decide you wanted to make people laugh for a job, and when did you find out it was something that was actually feasible for a living?

NM: I definitely knew I enjoyed making people laugh from a young age... I think I've even got a school exercise book claiming as such from when I was 7! Yuck! I'm not suggesting for a minute that this was either a) successful or b) a likeable personality trait, mind! Doing it for a living... I definitely wanted to make a career out of comedy from 2004 when I first performed in Edinburgh with the Cambridge Footlights - that definitely instilled a confidence in me that it was perhaps possible to make a living out of it. But realistically, in terms of it being genuinely feasible and practical, probably not until 2010. When I applied to Cambridge to do a PhD I had no idea (or wish) for that to take an odd steer and end in a career in comedy.

LC: What does the future hold for Nick Mohammed’s character comedy?

NM: I'm developing a TV vehicle for Mr. Swallow... I'm still playing with what form this might take, but I'd love it to be something really silly and quite 'Saturday night' - I'm sure Mr. Swallow would love that slot and milk it for all it's worth! Plus I'm writing a series with Julia Davis for Channel 4 about daytime television where we play the two hosts. And I'm hoping to write another musical as I've really enjoyed the process of developing this one and getting to/attempting to belt out some proper ballads!  

Dracula! (Mr Swallow, The Musical) starts on Mon 9th Feb and ends on 28th Feb at the Soho Theatre

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