What a cast and what a playwright, if Jerusalem is anything to go by, so booking tickets to see Mojo at The Harold Pinter was a no brainer and, although maybe it isn’t quite as excellent as I hoped, it is good and well worth seeing.
Set in Ezra’s Atlantic, a club in Dean Street, Soho in July 1958, Mojo is a somewhat seedy tale about gangsters and their would-be counterparts and once again re-unites its author with the director Ian Rickson. Jez Butterworth is a master craftsman at combining humour with darkness and it is shown to great effect in this, his 1995 first play for the Royal Court. It opens with Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys) in the upstairs room of the club getting ready to strut his stuff to the audience downstairs. Although his is a small role, the plot revolves around his character being poached away by a rival establishment and how this affects the rest of the employees at Ezra’s Atlantic. With a diet of pills and very little sleep the paranoid young men caught up in this London underworld get to sample many scary moments, often at the hands of Baby (the magnificent Ben Whishaw) the son of the club’s proprietor, Ezra. Mickey (Brendan Coyle) is supposedly the owner’s main man and, as such the person in charge, but as the tale unfolds, his weaknesses are illuminated. The ending is as dark as the beginning is funny.
The humour is due in no small measure to the wonderful portrayal of Potts, the ever brilliant Daniel Mays, who I have yet to see give a bad performance in anything. He also brings out the best in Rupert Grint, as his sidekick, Sweets (so called because he is the one who supplies the pills). We have an alumnus from Hogwarts who can act – hurrah. Added to this mix, is a bit of a psycho brilliantly portrayed by Ben Whishaw. He manages to keep everyone on tenterhooks wondering what on earth his character will do next and it is wonderfully done. His nemesis is in the shape of Skinny, an excellent Colin Morgan whose performance builds to a crescendo in the final scene. I can tell you no more.
The usually reliable Brendan Coyle is somewhat disappointing and I found it difficult to believe in him as a malevolent gang member, which is maybe why the ending is a little unsatisfying. No matter, this doesn’t detract from the play as a whole and it is a clever writer who can switch from laugh out loud moments to intakes of breath in a heartbeat.
The designer, Ultz, the third part of the Jerusalem trilogy alongside
Butterworth and Rickson, does a wonderful job evoking the edgy atmosphere of Ezra’s pokey little club. Likewise, the music scored by Stephen Warbeck can’t be faulted. I defy anyone not to tap their feet at least once during the evening. So with toe tapping music, laughs, tension and excellent acting, what's not to enjoy about Mojo.