first night


Tom Harper enjoys an evening in a seedy Soho nightclub with Jez Butterworth's black comedy.

For those who have ever heard or read any description about Jez Butterworth’s black comedy Mojo, the phrase ‘fast-paced’ will have undoubtedly cropped up once or twice. Set in a seedy nightclub in Soho during the summer of 1958, the play tells the story of several employees desperately attempting to cope with the theft of their rising star and the murder of their boss, which from any troupe of actors naturally demands pace, physicality and energy. On this front the cast shone, with many of its members keeping a constant foot on the accelerator and ensuring that every line was delivered with nerve and gravitas. Everyone onstage demonstrated a professional mastery of what was undoubtedly a ridiculous amount of lines to learn, and although certain key words or phrases were occasionally lost, the fluidity and confidence with which the plot was delivered ensured an overall dynamic and enjoyable show. Admittedly, at times the consistently high-octane nature of certain scenes could be tedious, which resulted in poignant moments losing their dramatic impact. However, this was rectified during the second half, wherein the cast were able to keep the piece more varied and intriguing.

The standout performances of the show must be attributed to Tristan Robinson and Luke Maskell, whose comedic timing and quick back-and-forths made the dynamic between Sweets and Potts a constant delight to watch. As a double act, they effectively interspersed moments of hilarity amongst those of sheer panic and despair, and Maskell in particular kept the audience hanging off of his every word. Sophie Forster must also be commended for adding an entirely different flavour to the play: her stern and composed take on the character of Mickey played off of Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin’s frantic Skinny extremely well. Of all those onstage, Forster’s ability to maintain character was the most pronounced, particularly during the play’s more dramatic moments. Unfortunately, the trade-off of such evident talent amongst some naturally leads to others being overshadowed, and Sam Penn often failed to deliver the energy and characterisation required for such a demanding play. Whilst his cool and collected take on Baby offered an interesting contrast with the piece’s other characters, at times this came across as boredom or fatigue as opposed to internal rage, which caused certain moments to fall flat. Thankfully, his interaction with other characters was presented with confidence and style, which ensured a seamless show.

Additionally, the technical aspects of the production are certainly worth a mention. Not only did the use of music, lighting and practical effects exhibit professionalism, but the show’s opening had the audience gripped from the get-go. Whilst Tyler Rainford’s time as Silver Johnny onstage was brief, the first two minutes of the play are two that I shan’t soon forget. And although the staging of the characters could be improved (given that most of the action was kept upstage and characters often blocked each other during moments of panic), the performance’s visual aspects were ultimately entertaining, and Ambika Mod should be extremely pleased with her slick and effective direction. One cannot help but be impressed that this is her first time in a full-on DST directing role. On the whole, Mojo is an expertly delivered, high-energy and hilariously funny piece of theatre that is definitely worth a watch, especially if you love humour that raises eyebrows as much as it tickles ribs.

27 October 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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