MOJO, Harold Pinter Theatre, October 26th 2013
A major London revival of prominent British playwright Jez Butterworth's 1995 play, Mojo, directed, as always, by Ian Rickson, would be a highlight of any London theatrical winter.
Throw in a cast comprising some of our most experienced thespians and the professional stage debut of one of his generation's most beloved young actors and it's not surprising that last night's first preview was an excited full house of veteran and novice theatregoers.
Set in 1958 London, over a drug fuelled weekend in a sleazy Soho nightclub, Mojo tells the story of the doomed Ezra and his group of minor gangsters fighting to keep their rock'n'roll protégé, Silver Johnny, out of the clutches of the unseen yet intimidating Sam Ross.
The energetic Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes, Mrs Biggs) as neurotic Potts and Rupert Grint (Harry Potter, Cherrybomb) as his pill popping partner Sweets fret about everything from being trapped in the nightclub to overdosing on birthday cake; the legendary cheekbones of Colin Morgan (Merlin, The Tempest) as Skinny spar violently with the ever ethereal Ben Whishaw (The Tempest, Richard II) as the psychotic Baby; all of them getting on the last nerve of the Olivier winning Brendan Coyle (The Weir, Downton Abbey) as Ezras's ambitious second in command Mickey.
As the situation spirals out of control, the dialogue is fast and hilarious and the ensemble cast have a wonderful time; Wishaw is utterly shameless, Mays never slows down as he steals the show and is going to lose several stone during the run, Morgan has an extraordinary scene in act two that I won't spoil for you, but you won't have seen its like on the stage and Rupert Grint enjoys a wonderful quick fire relationship with Mays and easily holds his own with the classically trained stage actors in an confident debut.
The set is dark and seedy, the throbbing bass of the music in the nightclub slowed and regulated my nervous heartbeat as the curtain rose and the well behaved novice audience from a total of four fandoms didn't let me down and showed their appropriate appreciation without disruptive entrance applause.
Butterworth's world of 1950's clubland hasn't dated and I am glad I'm seeing this assured revival another
four five times.
Previews from: 26th October 2013
Opening night: 12th November 2013
Booking until: 22nd February 2014
[Note warnings: Mojo is suitable for audiences aged 12 and upwards. Explicit language used throughout.]
When I heard Mojo
is about a nightclub in the late 50s, I expected a musical like Forever Plaid or Rock of Ages. When it was described as a dark comedy, I started to anticipate something more like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I soon realized I was absolutely wrong. They meant dark comedy with a major emphasis on dark
[and unfortunately no large musical numbers]. The play revolves around a secret meeting (off stage) with the club’s rising singer and an entrepreneurial gangster. The audience then watches as the club’s staff attempts to deal with the consequences of this over the next 36hrs.
Rupert Grint plays Sweets, the employee who handed out drugs as if it were candy. His first scene with Daniel Mays allows you to forget any previous roles, as you watch him become a nervous drug pusher in a matter of moments.
Rupert was in character the entire time either stuttering and rambling through his stories or standing aside and listening to fights. On stage with veterans Brandon Coyle, Daniel Mays, Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan, and Tom Rhys Harries, Rupert impressively stood his ground. Had I not known, I would never have guessed it was his stage debut.
Although the girls behind me remarked “He still seems like Ron,” I believe it is only because Ron is the character predominately associated with Rupert at this time. In this performance Rupert is well on his way to becoming a male acting presence akin to Potter alumni Maggie Smith, showing the versitility to act in dramas, comedies, and many, many more major productions for a very long time to come.
Overall, the play was enthralling and strangely endearing. This ensemble made me laugh, whilst leaving me completely on edge. An amazing production, looking back I can appreciate the delicate line the production had to toy with. By focusing on it's serious side, the play could have been a bitter, horrific event.
With bad timing and a campy production, it could have been a pathetic comedy with the wrong subject. But, remarkably, the cast, writer, and director collaborated to create a disturbing tale with a perfect “glittering” of realistic humor.
It drew me in. I felt like a fly on the wall of that nightclub. The superb cast left me stunned, slightly disturbed, and wanting more. (I’m already planning my return trip!) There were first night three curtain calls on the first night and, as the production continues, I’m sure these will only increase.