Ian Rickson's all-star revival of Jez Butterworth's 1995 play hits all the right notes
The original team of director Ian Rickson and designer Ultz have sure got their mojo working once more. Their scintillating revival of Butterworth's 1995 debut play Mojo 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.
The year is 1958, and Silver Johnny is the new Billy Fury-style rock star, kidnapped by rivals in South London after the club manager, Ezra, has been delivered back to base in a couple of dustbins. Ezra's son Baby, played with dangerous psychotic charge by an utterly mesmerising Ben Whishaw, has seen a Buick on the street outside.
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 with odd patter-style echoes of music hall and the loosening of old East End values in the new rock and roll and criminality.
Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) are the jumpy, insecure sidekicks in the club, the first a non-stop jittery bugger with a hilarious line in feeble self-assertion, the other – in a more than competent stage debut – a moon-faced, slow-thinking foil who finds himself retching without any sick.
The manager Mickey is done by Brendan Coyle as a glowering authority figure who's losing his grip and, as we learn, his loyalty, while Colin Morgan's wound-up Skinny, enslaved to Baby in hairstyle – a Teddy Boy's sleeked-back busby affair – and pleated, narrow blue trousers, is dicing with death and delusions.
Mojo was thrown on in a bravura piece of Royal Court programming under Stephen Daldry, and you can now see clearly where Jerusalem comes from in the groundswell of tragic destiny, the cultural tectonic shifts that define the action; 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; the shock of a post-party punch up with broken furniture and a sabre-wielding Baby; the Beckettian bins wheeled onstage, dead Ezra divided; the delivery of a silver jacket glinting in the stage lights; the upside-down captive.
Other surprises abound. I don't remember Tom Hollander in the original version singing as well, or as howlingly, as Whishaw; or Andy Serkis being quite as boobyish as Mays, who is as slippery and shocking as an electric eel. Stephen Warbeck's soundtrack is a sly and atmospheric decoration of the rock and roll centre, too, and there's the best gunshot effect since the splattered wallpaper in Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist. Unmissable.