Mojo - Review

Set in a Soho Club in the late '50s, Mojo tells of a nightmare weekend following the abduction of Silver Johnny, a singing sensation, and the subsequent discovery of the two halves of the club owner's body.

It is a study of the ever shifting relationships and loyalties of the five friends who barricade themselves inside the club fearful of their own safety. Fuelled with drugs and alcohol they argue, whine and insult each other. Each of them trying to ingratiate themselves, where appropriate, and being quick to denigrate others, if it is to their advantage.

Having enjoyed a production of one of Jez Butterworth's other plays — The Night Heron — at the New Venture a few years ago I was looking forward to this one. Although the Night Heron was not without its faults it was a much better play — one that excited and gripped one's interest. Seeing this play was a disappointment for me. The disappointment lay with Butterworth's writing and not with the performances.

It was his first play, written in the early '90s and reflecting the style of writing that was so popular then -– shock value and the tedious use of expletives. Here the writing was so overblown that the build up of tension, especially in the first act, was frequently interrupted. As I remarked in my review of American Buffalo, if the writer had been less generous in the use of coarse language and imagery, which only served to pad out the story line, we could all have gone home much earlier. The story would have been told more succinctly therefore benefiting from the taughtness that this script lacked. It would have been the tight and tense thriller intended.

However the story line did contain some neat twists in the second act and was not without humour, albeit black comedy.

The production had a strong cast all giving excellent performances but they deserved better material.

Mathew Houghton and Sam Wolstenholme, following up their previous successes at NVT continue to impress. They made up a fine double act -– Houghton as Potts, a man on the make, and Wolstenholme as Sweets, his dim sidekick.

Newcomer Ben Keyworth really got under the skin of his character –- Skinny Luke (pun not intended). A snivelling but crafty wretch –- one could almost smell the fear, sweat and halitosis. His death produced a clever coup de theatre with blood exploding everywhere.

Janna Fox played the small part of Silver Johnny, appearing briefly at the beginning and at the end of the play. This meant a lot of hanging around especially in the last scene, played suspended upside down from the ceiling -– this time the pun is intended!

Darren Cockrill is another actor who has been seen to good effect in recent productions. As Baby, he skilfully managed to convey the character's schizophrenic persona -– the childlike simplicity erupting into violence and with a quiet chilling control over the rest of the characters.

Tim Blissett gave a performance that mesmerised. His menacing authority, asserted by understated playing, was a quiet oasis in the midst of hysteria. His long drawn out stare down with Baby was a bold piece of direction by Frank McCabe.

 

Barrie Jerram
4 April 2008