first night

Mojo

Mojo leaves its actors upstaged. Monica Kawai reviews

Mojo

When ‘Mojo’ debuted at the Royal Court Theatre, critics went wild for its electric script and brutal, Tarantino violence. Indeed, the small time henchman of Soho’s ‘Atlantic Nightclub’ are from the start full of fast-paced ‘yap yap yap’, their ‘piss is black’ from the white, diet pills they get their highs from and they revel in obscenely graphic descriptions of how Silver Johnny, the star performer of the club, makes the girls’ ‘pussyhair stand up’.

This is the 1950s rock and roll era. The first scene between two of the nightclub thugs, Potts (Gareth Davies) and Sweets (George Haynes) captures the time of slick hair dos and juke boxes. Both actors are on the ball, their drugged up movements are sharp and erratic, and their exchanges ricochet hopes of hitting gold with the club’s singer Silver Johnny who is in talks with nightclub owner Ezra and gangster-cum-entrepreneur Mr Ross to make it big. There is a real sense of energy and hope but by the morning Ezra is sawn in half, his body in two dustbins, and Silver Johnny is nowhere to be seen. Who is responsible for this gruesome crime? And what does the future hold for these dim-witted henchmen?

Frustratingly by the end of the play we don’t much care for the outcome.  One loses interest in Silver Johnny’s fate when Butterworth’s language - so aptly described by the Observer as ‘Beckett on speed’ - is the real star of the show. The audience are drugged up on the script. Exchanges are so fast that at times words fly past incomprehensible and the tight repetition of phrases immerses the play in a jerky, jive-like energy. 

Though understandable when taking into account that Catinecescu put on this production after just two weeks, the cast struggle to keep on top of this immensely tight language. What begins as so promising an exchange between Potts and Sweets eventually degenerates to continual shouting of ‘fucks’ and ‘shut up’s, unconvincingly passed off as cynical, underworld grittiness and menace. The volume for this two act play is annoyingly kept on loud, the set of the sequinned Soho club is shabby and safety pinned up, and these irritations cannot be entirely soothed by the brilliant script. David Stodel as the smooth, first in command Mickey, adds some momentary relief however. His honeyed voice drips authority in Act One. Guy Hughes is also, not entirely unsuccessful, as the psychotic and eerie Baby.

In conclusion, the audience of this production left rather tired. Not as Ben Brantley of the New York Times predicted them to be: ‘high as a kite’ as though ‘you’ve taken something pretty potent yourself’.  Tighter direction, more subtlety in emotion, and variation in volume would make this production better viewing.

***

Monika Kawai

 

***

28 October 2011

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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