When I bought my ticket, the man at the box office said, "Now, I have to warn you this play has explicit language and adult themes."
"Sounds fun," I replied.
He definitely wasn't joking. Mojo is a black comedy with a lot of dark humour, mixed with serious and tragic moments.
Playwright Jez Butterworth burst onto the scene (pun totally intended) when his third play, Mojo debuted in 1995 and won the the George Devine awards. He has since written the critically-acclaimed Jerusalem and also the more recently produced The River, and on Saturday, Mojo returned to the West End.
Directed by Ian Rickson (who also directed it when it first opened, and was the director of Jerusalem as well), and boasting an all-star cast, Mojo takes place in a seedy Soho nightclub in the 1950s. Silver Johnny, a Justin Bieber predecessor and a blonde-haired, silver-suited seventeen year old, has a promising future. The owner and staff of the nightclub are understandably excited at the prospect of striking it rich, but it all comes crashing down the next morning when Ezra, the owner, is found dead—and there’s no sign of their silver goose.
Rupert Grint (Harry Potter) and Daniel Mays (Welcome to the Punch) star as staff Sweets and Sid, respectively. Colin Morgan (Merlin) is the appropriately named Skinny, also a staff member. Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey) is Mickey, the co-owner of the club, and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) plays Baby, the son of Ezra. Tom Rhys Harries (Parade's End) rounds out the cast as Silver Johnny.
The play opens to Johnny, just before he goes on stage. Poor Tom doesn't get much time on stage, and very few lines—but the character is an important one who stays in the minds of the audience, and of the other characters. The next scene, Sweets and Sid take over. They form a hilarious double act, playing off each other expertly. This is Rupert Grint's stage debut, and while it's difficult to see him as anyone other than Ron Weasley, he tries valiantly and puts in a great performance as the nervous and somewhat dim Sweets, who keeps fiddling with his tie and speaking when he shouldn’t.
Daniel Mays has a great stage presence throughout, with many of the show’s funniest lines going to him. His greedy, sleazy Sid has many of the play's funniest lines, but he also shows his character's vulnerabilities with aplomb.
Colin Morgan bursts on scene in a flurry of swear words and brandishing a brush. Mickey's favourite staff member, Skinny is the hardest worker and constantly bothered by Ben Whishaw's Baby. This character is completely different to past roles as Merlin and Ariel in The Tempest, and it's fantastic to see him stretch as an actor. He also has some really funny moments, but his performance in the tense final scene is exceptional.
Ben Whishaw is utterly outstanding as the psychotic Baby. He switches from happy inncocence to rage with ease. He also shows off his voice—but he doesn't sing, he croons snippets of fifties songs. This character is also a major departure from his last few roles in Peter and Alice and in Skyfall. He and Colin Morgan play off each other perhaps even better than Rupert and Daniel, whether he’s offering Skinny a toffee apple or threatening him with a cutlass, and I'm pretty sure I'm not imagining the crackle of sexual tension between the two.
And Brendan Coyle as Mickey attempts to rise above it all and remain the boss in Ezra's absence. A friend of mine likened him to a teacher trying to control a kindergarten class, and he certainly does have that air—but it works and it's very easy to empathise with him when Skinny complains to him again or Sweets is suggesting another bright idea. Sometimes he does feel a little overshadowed by all the other characters on stage, but that's more to do with the script than anything else. However, he, along with everybody else, is spectacular in the final scene.
The setting of only the nightclub sometimes felt a little limited, but it wouldn’t really have worked any other way.
Overall, Mojo is an utterly fantastic play. It has great music between scenes and a ridiculously talented cast. If you like black humour, you'll love it. If that's not your thing—go see it anyway. It's brilliant.
Mojo is showing at the Harold Pinter theatre, London, until January 26th. You can book tickets here.
Rupert Grint as Sweets
Daniel Mays as Sid
Ben Whishaw as Baby
✧･ﾟ:*COLIN MORGAN *:･ﾟ✧ as Skinny
Tom Rhys Harries as Silver Johnny
Mr. Bates as Mickey
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