Flabbergast Theatre: The Swell Mob – Be afraid of the puppet

Flabbergast Theatre brings to London The Swell Mob.  For any immersive theatre lover this is a must.

The show first premiered in Edinburgh last summer in which it won the Edinburgh Festival Fringe award. 

For three month’s Flabbergast Theatre will run at the COLAB Factory giving theatre goers a world of Victorian depravity set in an 1830s taproom with sideshows, vaudeville turns and even a boxing ring.

Flabbergast Theatre

Formed in 2010 Flabbergast was set up to make uncompromising and exciting physical theatre in a belief that all theatre should be engaging and sweaty. Providing puppetry and physical comedy and its application in both devised theatre and work on existing texts, their leaning is currently towards Bunraku Puppetry and clowns.

Flabbergast are the creators of Boris & Sergey: puppetry’s Balkan bad boys and “the greatest vaudevillian double act ever conceived for the small stage” Tatterdemalion, the award winning puppetry, physical comedy, and mime performance and Skrimshanks the bizarre buffoon immersive theatre Fringe hit.

The Swell Mob

Flabbergast Theatre brings their newest immersive theatre experience yet The Swell Mob. Giving audiences an explosive immersive theatrical experience, as dark as it is fun.

With award-winning clown, puppetry and cabaret combining a murky world of dandies and deception, in this delightful, provocative and utterly immersive theatre experience.

“Audiences enter a phantasmagorical Victorian Saloon populated by a cast of gothic grotesques wheeler dealers, divas, harlots and mystics. As the evening wears on you may – more likely will be approached by a ne’er-do-well, engaged in a conversation, offered a top or charged with a task and then dispatched to do their bidding. Suffice to day the more you invest in their world, the more you will get out of it. So intriguing and intoxicating is The Swell Mob’s brew that audience members are easily hooked into the Hurly Bury and the room escalates in pitch and intensity until the entire cast are whipped up into an amorphous maelstrom of movement before being sucked through one of the portals to who knows what realm from which they appeared”

The Scotsman

Mingling with The Swell Mob

I was invited along with some other members of Love Pop Ups London to step back into the 1830’s.

It was recommend to get more submerged into the spirit of the show to dress in 1830’s style clothing but thankfully is not necessary as I did not have any clothes which looked like it came from that era.  I just went in my usual casual clothes of a pair of jeans and a jumper.  Thankfully when I arrived I noticed there were a lot of others that also was just dressed casually.

Upon entering the saloon I was greeted by some odd looking and cunning characters and given a pouch of money (5 gold coins) and a drinks token.  With my drinks token in hand of to the bar I go. I had a choice of either a London Porter or by Bathtub Gin, so I chose my poison gin. 

Photo credit: The Swell Mob – Production Images

After enjoying my tumbler of gin it was off to adventure this murky world of dandies and deception, thieves, gonophs and fogle-hunters there was plenty of characters to discover, communicate with and even take on a task or two. 

Photo credit: The Swell Mob – Production Images

Keep an eye out though for those artful type dodger characters though as this is the world of the 1830’s after all.

Photo credit: The Swell Mob – Production Images

It’s rare to find an immersive show that really commits to blurring the lines between audience and performers but within the depths of The Swell Mob you’ll forget you’re watching a show altogether, as they really do transport your imagination to another dimension. Delve deeper within The Swell Mob and you will find that everybody has a story to tell, even if those stories do come at a price.

However with so much going on it was impossible to be able to watch every scene which was being played out. 

You don’t need to interact but the experience within interacting with characters will enhance anyone’s experience.  No attendee will have the same one as it is of everyone’s choice to whom you would like to engage with, and your choice if you want to lurk within the dark corridors or enter within the homes of those characters from The Swell Mob.  Even if you choose minimal interaction, the atmosphere is fairly spectacular. If you are feeling awkward, which is natural in the beginning, every one of the actors is deft at drawing you into the story. The best experience of The Swell Mob can be achieved by buying in completely and asking as many questions of the actors as possible.

Photo credit: The Swell Mob – Production Images

I loved interacting with the actors and learning about their character.  I especially loved playing a game of cards with the ever so shift looking gambler which I actually became a bit of an artful dodger and pinched say a chip or two from him. He cheated so I cheated. 

Photo credit: The Swell Mob – Production Images

I also particularly enjoyed the boxing match it really felt like a traditional 1800’s punch up within a self made boxing ring.  Cheering on my chosen boxer, I watched a beautifully choreographed boxing match with slow-motion effects and full body contact by the two boxers. I don’t usually like seeing violence in real life only on TV but it was really well done. My punt did not pay off as he did not win and just shows you must not trust everyone as my tip was from the gambler. I got my own back though as when the gambler was not at his table I stole some of his chips. That is what happens when you enter the world of The Swell Mob you become crafty and untrustworthy.

Photo credit: The Swell Mob – Production Images

Also I loved listening to the story read out by the master which is a puppet which speaks via a man who I believe has been possessed.  

However I won’t reveal too much more on the plot or individual happenings, but there is plenty of things to do and discover, from speaking to the many different character’s, exploring a number of rooms, uncovering secrets, etc. The more you interact back you won’t run out of things to do!

You’ll dance, sing, gamble, and cheat your way through The Swell Mob.

A truly dark and mystifying world.


I really enjoyed the interaction with the characters and the many dark rooms to adventure within to discover hidden secrets to the many characters. 

During the show you might end up at points questioning what is going on as it was never completely clear. You’re given money at the entrance which you are encourage to gamble with, you are entranced into conversations with characters that won’t give you a straight answer about the creepy puppet and why everyone within The Swell Mob is so afraid of him?

For me perhaps there was a little too much going on at once in different areas. With that I am still a bit baffled to the whole story and plot but never less was a fun and yet mystifying night.

However triumph of The Swell Mob is it’s entire cast, with every character being complex and rich in backstory, and even though they may never tell you what’s going on, they are masterful at making you frustratingly curious.  Plus with the added atmospheric sets and the added benefits of the impressive puppetry and artful physical theatre, The Swell Mob gives audiences a perfectly bizarre, uncomfortable, unmissable show.

If you love immersive theatre then this award-winning puppetry and cabaret show will give anyone plenty of thrills.  Lose yourself within The Swell Mob.

Submerge yourself in an unforgettable immersive adventure

Address: COLAB Factory, 74 Long Lane, London SE14AU
Dress code:  FANCY/1840s
£26 (£20 early bird tickets available for a short time)
£16 Previews
7:00pm (Thursday to Sunday)
8:45pm (Thursday to Saturday)
Running Time: 75 mins
Bookings Website: www.TheSwellMob.com

Thank you to Flabbergast Theatre for the invite. I was invited down courtesy of Flabbergast Theatre along with some other community members. All views are my own honest opinion.

Click below to read other’s blogs who came along on the night to adventure with characters of The Swell Mob. All are of their own honest opinion.

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