Flabbergast Theatre will take theatregoers into the shadowy world of a 19th century taproom for their hyper-immersive The Swell Mob.
Best known to Adelaide audiences for their acclaimed puppetry characters Boris and Sergey, Flabbergast Theatre mix physical theatre with clowning and puppetry for immersive experiences that crash through the fourth wall. Their latest production, which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe last year, is their boldest to date. Featuring up to 23 performers playing pickpockets and prostitutes, as well as upper-class dandies slumming it, in a 19th century taproom. This is a sordid house of entertainment with murky characters the audience can interact with. Currently featuring three different endings, The Swell Mob is completely improvised.
“There is no script as such,” says Flabbergast Theatre’s artistic director Henry Maynard, who also stars in The Swell Mob. “Everybody has their own sort of narrative for their individual character, which includes a back story and whatever it is their trying to achieve during the show.
“There are a couple of overriding narratives that are very set and then the other ones… there is an event that happens at the end but who takes part in that event is dictated by whatever happens in the show and how the audience interacts. A little bit like a choose-your-own-adventure.”
The Swell Mob is set in the 19th century, as Maynard wanted a place that everybody, no matter their social standing, would attend to be entertained.
“The aesthetic is 1830s-1850s, which is a period of time I’ve always loved, that Victoriana feel. All of our previous shows have elements of that in it: Boris and Sergey, they’re little puppets but were old musical stars, and my solo show Tatterdemalion was set in that world. That aesthetic is something we’re interested in at Flabbergast, the idea of going back to that underground, sort of Wild West-like London pub, where you’d find the dregs of society.
“It’s a place where you’d have your pickpockets, your prostitutes but you’d also have your stars of the stage like [Joseph] Grimaldi or it may be the type of place that people might like to go and slum, where essentially very well dressed people might find themselves in there rolling some dice or watching [the entertainment].
“It was the tradition of sing, say or pay,” he says of that world. “Everybody in the pub would either have a song or a story or they’d have to buy a round if they didn’t have a story or a song.”
The Swell Mob
Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artspace
Saturday, June 8 to Saturday, June 22