While perhaps unknown by many, Jez Butterworth is one of the great modern playwrights, and Mojo undoubtedly proves his worth. Having achieved huge success with a sell-out run of his play Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre in 2012, this follow-up doesn’t disappoint with relentless energy, incredible pace and sharp, brilliant writing throughout. While the work was originally produced at the Royal Court in 1995, this revival feels anything but dusty and packs an incredible punch. The set-up is simple: a group of workers in a seedy East-End night club discover their boss has been brutally murdered by a rival, and at breakneck speed everything begins to unravel as they try to hold their nerves and not lose their heads. Literally.
Opening with a cleverly intricate dialogue between two of the gang, Potts and Sweets (played by Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint), the first scene sets a comic tone which is destined to be broken apart by the havoc which is about to unfold. Mays and Grint provide much of the comedy throughout the production, the former giving a brilliant comic turn with a character who is unable to stop moving and punctuates every intonation with the twitch of a tightly strung pill-popper trying to stay calm. Grint plays the hopeless Sweets much to the complement of Mays, the two characters’ dialogue bouncing off each other with precise comedic timing.
As the play turns darker, Butterworth’s writing manages to retain its comic elements but to a much starker effect as the threat of the group’s ruin becomes all the more real, and the pull of drug-fuelled in-fighting is increasingly inevitable. Ben Whishaw stars as the club boss’s son, Baby, giving a truly chilling performance as a disturbed and dangerous character. From the moment he walks on stage, Whishaw’s presence towers over those around him and while soft-spoken he still commands an undivided attention of the entire audience, reducing the whole theatre to complete unbroken silence.
Colin Morgan’s portrayal of Skinny is again enthralling, as he fights to rise through the ranks of the group while they fear for their own and each other’s lives. As the play progresses towards its explosive climax, Morgan provides one of the most terrifyingly affecting moments in the production, and one of the most difficult moments of theatre I have ever seen. Truly brilliant.
While only set between the upstairs and downstairs of a damp and fading night club, this play feels like it spans great breadths of human emotional urges and intricacies both in its writing and its performance. Every moment of the show gives something different and the fact we are never distracted by flashy stage tech or unnecessary set changes means that our focus is entirely on the characters, their actions and their words. This constantly moving, unnervingly energetic and relentlessly shocking production is not to be missed.
By Andy Smith
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