London’s theatre scene is so jam packed with certified stars at the moment that the lights of Hollywood must be a little dimmed.
Mojo, the Jez ‘Jerusalem’ Butterworth penned play, written 13 years before his smash hit, manages to squeeze not one, but three big
egos names onto the stage at the Harold Pinter theatre.
With Q, Ron Weasley and Mr Bates on one stage, Mojo sounds like some super tribute to screen Britain. In reality it’s more like an all too real 2am Saturday night Britain after the country has collectively downed one too many Sambucas. It’s fidgety, brittle, twitchy, testosterone-fuelled and, often, incoherent.
Mojo is set in a seedy club in 1950s Soho, back in its pre-Hummus Bros days when gangsters and sex shops dominated the narrow streets east of Regents Street. There’s been a murder off stage; Ezra, the club’s owner has been found in two bins by the manager Mickey (a weary Brendan Coyle) one July morning, his body parts thought to be put there by Sam Ross, a rival in the rock’n’roll wars. Ezra’s son, Baby, sheds few tears for his father, but his steely composure at the news of his dad’s death belies an anger and thirst for revenge. Caught in the middle of these warring rivals – and Baby’s dormant wroth – is Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) a burgeoning rock‘n’roll star set for Stateside success according to the club’s ‘suits’, Sweets (Rupert Grint) and Potts (Daniel Mays).
A play about 1950s cockney gangsters is never going to be warm and cosy, but Mojo, while smart and witty and largely well-acted, lacks a heart. It’s like watching a drama workshop where the actors are improvising and failing to connect with each other. The characters shout, stomp and swear with little impact. There are some very funny lines, although many of these get lost in the turmoil, but there is little to love.
Daniel Mays is a fantastic actor who often eclipses the bigger stars he shares a screen – or in this case – a stage with. Mays and the brilliant Ben Whishaw as the cool, cruel Baby give the play depth and focus; their shoulders must be hurting from holding it up.
Brendan Coyle looks like he’d rather be polishing Lord Grantham’s shoes or pushing rapists off pavements – anywhere, anywhere – than on the stage at the Harold Pinter theatre playing a ropey nightclub manager who may have had a hand in murdering his boss. He was so over the whole thing that he even abandoned his cockney accent in the second half.
Rupert, has taken the well trodden path of shaking off his child star past by treading the boards in a part where he gets to say ‘fuck’ a lot. He’s rather good, although despite dropping the f-bomb frequently, there’s more than a hint of his Harry Potter nemesis about his slacker Sweets role.
Funny and frantic, for all its star billing and big writer and director combo (Ian Rickson once again joins Butterworth), Mojo didn’t catch my imagination, it was perhaps too stylised, too self-consciously theatrical to pull you into its seedy underworld.
by Suzanne Elliott
Mojo runs until 8 February 2014 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street W1. For more information and tickets, visit www.mojotheplay.com.