MojoPosted on: 03 December 2013 by Laurence Green
Laurence Green reviews the revival of Jez Butterworth's dark comedy Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
A queasy mix of glamour, showbusiness, sex, organised crime and gang violence is delivered by Jez Butterworth in his 1995 play Mojo, which is revived in a hard hitting new production, directed by Ian Rickson, at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Four young wideboys are hanging out backstage at a sleazy Soho club, admitting the smart Buick parked outside. It is summer 1958. However the idea of the club as a safe haven is shattered when its owner Ezra, refuses to sell his new rock n’roll sensation, Silver Johnny, to a powerful rival, Sam Ross. As a result, the following day Ezra’s body, which has been sawn in half, is discovered in two dustbins at the back of the club. And the sinister Mr. Ross appears to have seized Johnny for himself. What follows is a bloodthirsty power struggle between Ezra’s sidekick, Mickey, and the late owner;s psychotics son , Baby.
This black comedy was Butterworth’s playwrighting debut written before his award winning hit Jerusalem. He presents us here with a brutal vision of desire and treachery, laced with a strange hypnotic lingo that combines wild profanity with cryptic poetry. The play, however, takes a long time to get in its stride, and ultimately it barrage if gays weakens the dramatic impact, while the final revelation of responsibility and guilt doesn’t seem to matter much. Underneath the visceral dialogue and dark laughter, this is a play about damaged people – Butterworth is writing about a particular world in which men talk with bravado about their loneliness, panic and fear of emotional contact.
No qualms exist about the performances which are all uniformly excellent. Rupert Grint (from the Harry Potter films) makes an assured stage debut as Sweets, a pill-popping, pill-dealing kid, lacking in confidence, while Daniel Mays, full of quirks and twitches, is a garrulous, sweaty Potts, another club employee in danger of becoming submerged in the ambient moral murk, and Ben Whishaw cuts a dash as Ezra’s sinewy, angry and dangerous son Baby. Best of all, though is Brendan Coyle (Bates from Downton Abbey) who stamps his authority on proceedings as Mickey, the stalwart lieutenant of the slaughtered club owner.
Ultz’s set, complete with wooden curved bar and two-storey spiral starirs, gives the piece a truly realistic touch.
This is definitely not a play for the squeamish but it is a work which, despite its faults, makes a strong impression.
Runs to January 25, 2014
Box office: 0844 871 7622
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