Mojo Mickybo, written by award-winning playwright Owen McCafferty whose previous work includes Scenes from the Big Picture and Shoot the Crow, is set in Belfast during the bloody days of 1970 where two nine- to ten-year-olds act out some of McCafferty’s own childhood experiences and what he describes as “the absurdity of sectarianism”.
This production, which has been transported to Trafalgar Studios following Fringe acclaim at the Arcola Theatre, has a lot going for it. The two leads (Martin Brody and Benjamin Davies) are fantastic as the children as well as 17 other characters they perform on-and-off throughout. Their mischievous (and at times loveable) childlike innocence is quickly divided by that of troubled parent, rogue bully and hostile cinema usher (to name but three). The genius behind their performance is not the age gap, but the unconscious political sincerity between the children and the adults.
Like a fairytale, they live their playground lives smoking first cigarettes, starting fires, acting out cinematic heroes; while parents simply drift in-and-out of their days as they do at that age but, in this story, all hunched under the pressure of Seventies Belfast. “We were just kids,” McCafferty explains in a programme note. “One day we were playing. And the next day we were still playing. But it was different. Our world changed. And has stayed changed.”
Before taking my seat, I was slightly sceptical of first-time director Jonathan Humphreys, being only 22, tackling such a sensitive and harrowing subject as an inexperienced outsider. But perhaps that’s the brilliance behind it – creating a story about open-minded children swallowed by a chaotic land, through the eyes of a director who knows very little about the subject, therefore simplifying their world. In such a way, Humphreys prevails where an older, more experienced director may have made heavier work of it.
In my opinion, a good show keeps you talking and thinking long after the performance has finished, which this production of Mojo Mickybo does. And rightly so. Thoughtful writing, fantastic acting, and a brave directing debut.