Once every evening – twice on weekends – throughout the Fringe, the door of an underground garage creaks open and a group of unsuspecting Fringegoers enter a phantasmagorical Victorian saloon populated by a cast of gothic grotesques – wheeler dealers, divas, harlots and mystics – and a very cute docile Beagle sitting in the corner unconcerned by their murky business.
The Swell Mob, Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) ****
Fringe regulars Flabbergast Theatre have past form with Victorian vaudeville presentations but The Swell Mob is their most ambitious and immersive show to date with all the strolling cast having as much of a ball as their customers, lurking by the bar or plying their trade around the room.
There is promenade performance from contortionists and puppeteers, tarot readers and card sharps, occasionally a solo song or a group carousal. Catfights, brawls and bouts abound, punters are peeled off for intrigues in ante-rooms but everyone comes together for the wrestling.
And, behind it all, a bell rings intermittently, inducing involuntary shudders in these eldritch creatures. As the evening wears on, you may – more likely, will – be approached by a ne’er-do-well, engaged in conversation, offered a tip or charged with a task and then dispatched to do their bidding, often involving the exchange of special Swell Mob pounds, issued on entry in a draw-string bag.
Suffice to say, 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 burly and the mood in 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 were spewed.
• Until 26 August, 7:45pm