Mojo

Jez Butterworth

Harold Pinter Theatre

From 26 October 2013 to 08 February 2014

Review by Philip Fisher

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Nowadays, Jez Butterworth is best known for Jerusalem, but his breakthrough came at the Royal Court in 1995 with this unsettling but entertaining Pinteresque, or in this revival Ortonesque, drama.

Unusually, 18 years on, the original director Ian Rickson revisits the play, helped by a sparkling, high profile cast including Rupert Grint, who makes a competent stage debut long after his pal from the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe.

Those that have long memories may well recall from first time around a darker reading of a thriller that wasn't too far from the in-yer-face principles of bad language and graphic violence.

The world moves on, turning identical subject matter into third millennium black comedy that can be very funny as well as stomach-churning.

Mojo might be set in Soho during 1966 with great dialogue as sharp as the suits but its milieu is that of East End gangsters of the era such as the Krays. It takes place on two floors of a characteristic, Ultz-designed night club run by Ezra, whose tenure both at the club and in life doesn't make it past the opening scenes.

He leaves behind a strangely mismatched sextet of male chancers whose interactions are characterised by mistrust.

The first duo quickly make it clear that brains are in short supply. Daniel Mays rightly portrays manic Sid, while the lad from Hogwarts is Sweets. Their wisecracking is often very funny and, oddly, they can come across as a kind of sinister version of Morecambe and Wise.

The catalyst for Butterworth's story is teenage pop idol, Silver Johnny, bravely played by Tom Rhys Harries who deserves danger money. His mysterious disappearance, along with the discovery of both halves of Ezra, injects uncertainty and dissension into the company.

The next pair on the scene are Ezra's son Baby, played with psychotic glee by Ben Whishaw, a long way from his recent TV success as Richard II, and Colin Morgan as Skinny, another low IQ servant of the club.

Maturity is introduced in the form of star Brendan Coyle's Mickey. Sensing a rare opportunity for power, he tries to take control but struggles because in this play surprises are never far away.

Indeed, by an unexpectedly hopeful ending suggesting a subtext of homosexuality after 2½ hours of mayhem, Mojo has delivered numerous twists and turns, almost all of which begin to make some kind of sense. Ultimately, with deaths and violence typically occurring offstage and being reported by assorted characters, this production has all of the characteristics of Greek tragedy but with many more humorous moments.

Some may struggle to overcome revulsion even as they are admiring the acting, especially that of Ben Whishaw who additionally reveals a talent for crooning.

Even so this revival should prove enjoyable and might even yield the odd deeper meaning hidden not too far below the thriller-like surface.