Rickson revives Butterworth's 'exhilaratingly violent' Mojo
Ian Rickson's all-star West End revival of Jez Butterworth's 1995 play is 'set to become a smash hit all over again'
The original team of director Ian Rickson and designer Ultz have sure got their Mojo working once more… [It] is as good as new in its dream-like evocation of small-time Soho mobsters tearing each other to shreds in a Dean Street nightclub… [Whishaw's] Baby's at the centre of this mythic, mockingly male, highly comic and exhilaratingly violent story, a sort of self-conscious combined rip-off tribute to Pinter, Mamet and Tarantino... The play has the sting of originality and the power of voodoo… And it's painted in stark unforgettable imagery: the opening, explosive strut of the pre-show Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) in the rooms above the club, echoed in a weird jukebox jelly-limbed jive by Whishaw later on… Stephen Warbeck's soundtrack is a sly and atmospheric decoration… and there's the best gunshot effect since the splattered wallpaper in Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist. Unmissable.
Now Mojo is back, once again directed by Ian Rickson, and the show looks set to become a smash hit all over again… [with] a superbly comic double act by Grint and the motor-mouthed Mays, who at one stage physically vibrates with excitement… It is the combination of strong plotting and zinging dialogue that makes this play so addictive and disconcerting… there is a superb performance from Whishaw, who brings a drop-dead arrogance and a chilling touch of the psycho to the late club-owner's abused son, Baby. Colin Morgan is both wonderfully funny and desperately poignant… while Brendan Coyle… plays a devious heavy with terrifying authority. You might complain that this is a play up to its ears in debt to other writers… and that it lacks anything resembling a human heart. But boy is it fun in its impudent panache.
At first, it's the visceral dialogue and the black comedy that grip you… Underneath the virtuosic language and the dark laughter, this is a play about damaged people… Ben Whishaw as Baby radiates a toxic stillness, yet never lets you forget that the character is a victim of paternal abuse. Brendan Coyle as Mickey also presents a figure of burly authority who slowly crumbles before our eyes, and who seems to have a quasi-sexual attachment to Colin Morgan as the group's fall guy. Daniel Mays is on superb form as a jittery spiv who keeps shifting his loyalties and who relies on the support of Rupert Grint as his acolyte. And Tom Rhys Harries, as Silver Johnny, suggests an embryonic Elvis. You won't find much better ensemble acting than this, nor a play that so effectively punctures the pretensions of a hermetic gangland culture.
Sadly, the play is an unlovely, violent, foul-mouthed effort… this early black comedy, set in a 1950s London nightclub, is unloveable and, under Ian Rickson's direction, makes for a grinding evening... Mr Butterworth's later work has been innovative, ornate in its language, bravely defiant of cliche… Mojo is the fumbling of a younger playwright… Mr Grint grunts a bit, but so do the other actors. Mr Mays shows how to extract maximum comedy from the lines… The sets, designed by Ultz, are claustrophobic... The second half is limited to the club's drab main hall. Normality is banished... Colin Morgan does some valiant twitching as another of the gangsters and Tom Rhys Harries hangs upside down beautifully as a tortured innocent. By the end, I rather empathised with his character.
…Butterworth has a superb ear for dialogue and a particularly creative way with swearing that it's better not to reproduce here but his fascination for the London underworld now seems a little passé… The cast list is as big a galaxy of current stars as you'll see on a stage together... Whishaw is brilliant at creepy, capricious menace… Actually the real star turn here is the least stellar name. The ever-compelling Daniel Mays… is in danger of acting everyone else off the stage as numpty tough Potts... The problem for me is that this plot shift is more interesting than the characters themselves. Baby's evolution from embarrassingly inept brat to psycho master-strategist doesn't entirely ring true… and the subtext of sexual abuse and homoeroticism adds more cliché than nuance. But it all races along so cheekily that you may not mind.