The revival of Jez Butterworth’s Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre has a stellar cast, which ensures its runaway success. Downton’s Brendan Coyle (pictured below) and Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint star in this British beat-style play about a group of youths in 1950s Soho who party hard and pop amphetamines with the music business as their backdrop.
The language is fast, furious and full of swear words. There’s an abundance of realistic and clever backchat but the overflowing pace of banter belies the absence of something fundamental in this work: a good plot.
We learn that the boss of these boys has been chopped in half and deposited outside the bins following the dispute over ownership of a rising rock star.
Thus the comical scenario involving two bins of two halves of the body festering on a hot summer’s evening makes for great drama but considering this is set in Soho, there is very little context or scene setting.
Apart from a passing reference to Dean Street, we could be anywhere and frankly I don’t really care where we are because I’m trying to get my head around the fact that by the time the safety curtain has descended at the end of the first act, little else has happened.
Five men have in fact spent the entire first act saying, ‘Oh my God, what the fuck are we going to do?’ in a hundred different ways. There’s a lot of squabbling, screaming and cowering in a mock Meisner repetition of sentences that just becomes tedious.
I’m sure when Mojo had its premier in 1995 the language and its rhythm was groundbreaking. Maybe it had more of an impact then, but my theatre-going buddy reminded me that David Mamet has been doing this for a long time so really, it’s nothing new – it’s simply a different accent.
Butterworth still struggles in the second half as we continue to go round and round in circles with the ‘Oh my God what the fuck are we going to do?’ banter mixed in with a little blame, suspicion and bravado as a power struggle evolves.
Of course, relationships between the five men deepen, dark secrets are exposed and slowly this becomes a whodunit, but it’s all very repetitive and I look at my watch several times during the performance.
What this play does have going for it is some absolutely stunning acting. Brendan Coyle, quietly powerful as the menacing Mickey, is matched by a truly psychotic and terrifying Ben Whishaw as Baby. Slowly we see how damaged he is and discover undercurrents of sexual abuse and homosexuality.
Rupert Grint is endearing and committed as Sweets, the naïve sidekick, and Tom Rhys Harries, who spends most of his time upside down, makes a beautiful Silver Johnny the singer, but hats off to Daniel Mays as the aspiring spivvy Potts, whose final scene is a masterclass.
Mojo is a must-see for the superb acting and ticks all the boxes for an entertaining play. If you want to spend an eye-watering amount of money on stall seats, go ahead, but don’t expect to come out with any thought-provoking philosophical revelations.