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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MOJO
at the Harold Pinter

YOUNG THUGS
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Colin Morgan, Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint Ph: Simon Annand

It is appropriate that this absolutely terrific revival of Jez Butterworth’s 1995 debut play Mojo has taken up residence at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Not only are parts of this youthful play (Butterworth was 24 when he wrote it) redolent of some of the early works of the influential Mr. P, but when, a couple of years after its memorable Royal Court production, the play was unsuccessfully turned into a film, Butterworth wrote a powerful cameo scene for Pinter that was not in the original play.

Pinter, it has to be said, isn’t the only influence at work here. You don’t need a magnifying glass to detect more than a trace of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction lurking in both the foreground and background. And in Butterworth’s staccato, rat-a-tat way with colourful, raunchy dialogue, his debt to David Mamet in general and Glengarry Glen Ross in particular is boundless.

Because the trademarks of these more established writers echo so loudly, Butterworth forfeits any claims to freshness or originality. The influences are just too obvious. That said, in a revival as brilliantly acted as this one is, and as viscerally directed by Ian Rickson (who directed the original), I was almost seduced into believing I’d been watching a far better play than it really is.

The setting is a run-down SoHo rock 'n roll club called the Atlantic. The year is 1958. When the play begins, Ezra, the club’s owner, and a gangster rival, Sam Ross – both unseen – have locked antlers over the future of a new, crowd-pleasing rock star in the Tommy Steele mould aptly named Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) because of his sparkling gear.

The club’s future depends on the outcome of these negotiations and leads to tension, speculation and edginess among the Atlantic’s assortment of young thugs. They include Potts (Daniel Mays), a spineless, hyperactive teddy boy forever seeking reassurance from the doltish Sweets (Rupert Grint), a pill-popping kid trying hard to be a man; Mickey (Brendan Coyle), Ezra’s ambitious, duplicitous second in command; Baby (Ben Whishaw), Ezra’s psychotic, abused son; and Skinny (Colin Morgan), the most menial member of the staff, in thrall to Baby, whose wardrobe he unwisely copies.

With the characters effectively delineated, the plot and its homo-erotic overtones go into overdrive when Mickey discovers that Ezra has been murdered by Ross and his body sawn in half – each half dumped in separate dustbins. (A nod in the direction of Beckett?)

With the future of the club on the line, and fearing for their own lives, Ezra’s grisly death creates a groundswell of tension, fear and confusion in all but Baby, who, with retribution on his tortured mind, brings the play to a chilling climax in which the boys in this particular hood lose their macho mojo as their lives are shattered to shards.

As Baby Ben, Whishaw is mesmeric. You cannot take your eyes off him. He also extends his already impressive range by demonstrating how well he can sing – and move. On the evidence of this, it will be only a matter of time before he’ll be offered roles in musicals.

Mays also exudes a star presence as the untrustworthy Potts. Morgan breaks your heart as the hapless Skinny. Coyle, in contrast to his role in Downtown Abbey, is fine as the play’s only “mature” presence. And Grint (looking like a teenaged Boris Becker) gives a confident, fully nuanced performance as Sweets his debut stage role.

Rickson, working in atmospheric sets by Ultz that show both the private and public parts of the club, doesn’t miss a trick in giving a grimly realistic veneer to Butterworth’s stylised turns of phrase. The death of Skinny is just one of many stunning, heart-stopping moments in an evening in which style triumphs over content.

 


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