MOJO – Harold Pinter Theatre, London.
Mojo plunges us into a seedy underworld of neer-do-wells in late 1950s Soho just as rock’n’roll is starting to explode onto the London music scene. For the boys at the Atlantic Club, there’s money to be made, drugs to push, territory to defend and an endless stream of liberal-minded girls. When a rival gangster Mr Ross murders Ezra (their club owner) in a very grisly manner and teen heart throb Silver Johnny goes missing, Mickey, Sweets, Potts, Baby and Skinny start to wonder if one of them could be next, so decide to barricade themselves into the club for the weekend. The claustrophobic atmosphere means that the cracks between them start to appear very quickly. As if the situation itself isn’t bad enough, they’re trying to deal with it whilst assortedly hungover, still buzzing and/or on a comedown (or any combination of the three).
Potts (Daniel Mays) is a brash, cocky wideboy – very much the character of the gang – who seems to be incapable of standing still and constantly chips in with whatever is running through his head. Rupert Grint thankfully cuts the mustard in his stage debut as Sweets. Vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Ron, but with more pills and swearing; gormless and always slightly wired. Grint is blessed with natural comic timing that cannot be taught – he is almost constantly on stage and manages humour even when he’s not saying anything.
Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) plays Baby, a deeply troubled and complex character, with astonishing skill; switching from gentle boy to threatening thug within a few syllables. The violence is terrifyingly realistic; too often stage fighting can look choreographed and placed – this looks far more visceral and spontaneous. Skinny (Colin Morgan) is the lost boy of the gang; with no real identity of his own, he copies Baby’s hair and style – at a glance they’re almost indistinguishable from each other. Morgan plays him with a great desperation to fit in and be liked. The vibration in his voice is quite something.
Mickey (Brendan Coyle) has a menacing undercurrent which he mostly keeps under wraps, coming across as emotionally hollow, a man who puts business before anything else. Special mention should also go to Silver Johnny (the devastatingly beautiful Tom Rhys Harries) who appears briefly at the start for some rock ‘n’ roll posturing and posing, vanishes for most of the play, and then spends the best part of 20 minutes strung up by his ankles. A small, but surely physically demanding part.
The only trouble with this play is it is long. The first half is loaded with pace and quickfire dialogue, eliciting frequent laughs at some pretty grim subjects. The second half has some truly inspired lines but once the laughs stop coming, the whole thing feels like it’s starting to sag and it has no sign of resolution. It could easily be ten minutes shorter with no detriment to the overall play.
It is a good production and it’s well done. I liked it, I just didn’t love it quite as much as I wanted to.
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By Gail Bishop