Romeo and Juliet, Prologue
After months of anticipation, I finally got to see ‘Mojo’, Jez Butterworth’s comedy about a Brighton Rock-style gang, at the Harold Pinter Theatre on Thursday night. And let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. With a stellar-studded ensemble cast of Daniel Mays, Rupert Grint, Brendan Coyle, Colin Morgan, Tom Rhys Harries and the ever-amazing Ben Whishaw, could it really have been anything else but fantastic?
Although the plot, whilst reasonably entertaining, isn’t nearly as gripping as, say, ‘Chimerica’, the in depth character studies, witty dialogue and fantastic acting certainly make up for any short-comings in that department. We are introduced to the six members of a gang at a crisis point; the more-intelligent boss’ lackey, Sidney (a scene-stealing, constantly-moving Mays); the less-clever, ever-anxious Sweets (Grint, proving his future as the next Martin Freeman, likeable Everyman); the incredibly irritating, self—important Skinny Luke (played by Morgan perfectly, in that he was simply skin-crawlingly annoying); acting-chief Mickey (Coyle, who has somewhat less material to work with than the others, but plays his part very well); distant, irrational and deeply disturbed Baby (a superb Whishaw, once again acting the removed, child-man character with aplomb) and Rhys Harries as the victim or pawn of the inter-gang politics, Silver Johnny.
There isn’t a weak link within the ensemble, but there are two particularly strong players: Whishaw and Mays particularly light up the stage and draw your eyes to them, even when not speaking. Mays is incredibly energetic, leaping and dancing into action out of his chair, in and out of doors, across the stage. The droll dialogue between Sidney and Sweets shows Mays and Grint’s talent for comedy, and helps lighten the mood at moments of tension. However, Whishaw provides the flipside to this, with bursts of spine-chilling laughter and sudden snatched outpourings of melodious 1950s rock ‘n’ roll that tighten the atmosphere to breaking point. In a world of action, gratuitous swearing, and constant violence, Baby’s proffering of toffee apples, his abrupt breaks into song and his silences carry more impact, and seem to hint at a deeper, more disturbing malevolency within.
The staging is sound, if not especially exciting, with the opening scene of Silver Johnny preparing backstage for his big entrance into a hoard of screaming girls being particularly well done. Whilst no words are actually spoken, we can see Johnny working himself up, preparing, smoking a cigarette, as he listens to the nigh-on hysterical shouts from downstairs. As he finally enters, the entire auditorium and stage is thrown into pitch black, with only the yelling and squealing filling your ears. It is as if you are there, among the crowd, in the darkened nightclub; however, although exciting to the point of fever-pitch, the effect of the darkness and screams also brings to mind murkier thoughts, hinting at the shadiness behind the show.
Overall, a brilliant must-see production with one of the best ensemble casts you’ll find anywhere – if you can get yourself tickets by any means, do.
Mojo (Harold Pinter Theatre, London) – 4/5 Stars