Jez Butterworth'sMojo, a play that proved to be a cool success for its writer and the Royal Court in 1996 at the Duke Of York s, combines the thuggish brutality of the Krays with the cinematic glorification of violence of Reservoir Dogs. There's more than a hint of a film idea here in this glance back to the rock 'n' roll era of Soho gangsterville and, of course, Mojo the film, directed by Butterworth, eventually appeared on the silver screen last year.
While the play does invoke a rather unpleasant Fifties era, this Sheffield Theatres production, combined with Butterworth's Olivier award-winning dialogue, finds itself in no fixed time or place; it is a very Nineties, Tarantino-esque right here, right now but also somewhere else hip and trendy place to be. It is very British, although it simultaneously makes one think that the ink from an Elmore Leonard book has dripped onto the pages of the script.
Kit Surrey's designs also add to the peculiar whereabouts of the action in all their stainless steel, almost sci-fi glory. Yes, we have authentic jukeboxes, but in the haze of the dense dry ice they, as well as some galvanised dustbins containing two halves of one dead body, take on futuristic proportions. Alongside classic rock 'n' roll hits, Matthew Bugg's original, action-punctuating music sounds like a tremendous wall of Eno-like noise.
Mojo is about small time gangsters who become involved in a power struggle after the unseen club owner Ezra (who ends up in the aforementioned dustbins) is killed, we are led to believe, by his rival Sam Ross. Suffice to say that the characters are scared, violent and duplicitous enough to make the plot slightly more complicated than can be explained here.
Jack Tanner is quite wonderful as the psychotic and somewhat manic Baby, a character prone to violent mood swings at the slightest excuse, and Peter Lee-Wilson's Mickey is menacing enough. Jonathan McGuinness (Sweets) and Alan Westaway (Potts) are on stage for much of the action and are quite a good double act in an inept, almost Chuckle Brothers way. They are, in actual fact, too scared to be real hardmen. Joshua Henderson (Skinny) departs this mortal coil in a blood splattered finale that is very funny due to its longevity.
At times disturbing, brutal, macabre and funny, Mojo occasionally stretches the repetition of various lines a little too far. Nevertheless, it s still a stylish affair. Its borrowing of cinematic codes is ultimately what restricts it - there are times when we'd like to cut to a big close up of the thugs or a shot of action elsewhere.