by Jez Butterworth
March 9th - 13th, 2010
The Tower Theatre performing at the Bridewell Theatre
Mojo definitely working chez Bridewell! ****
Review by Ginny Hayes for remotegoat
The 1995 Royal Court première of Jeremy "Jez" Butterworth's Mojo had critics falling over themselves to liken Butterworth to Tarantino and Pinter in equal measure. Here on stage was the same casual violence as had made Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, three years earlier, such an instant hit. Here were grisly deeds and gruesome ideas that had an audience gasping and laughing simultaneously; and here were men who combined amorality and likeability with, behind closed doors, an almost inconceivable level of ineptitude. And here also were echoes of Pinter's failed and failing men, vicious, ominous and inappropriately funny, scrabbling among themselves to be top rat in the dung-heap.
Mojo takes place over roughly 24 hours in the life of a Dean Street nightclub during the late 1950s. The nominal 'owner' of the club is butchered early on over a disputed recording contract, leaving a sociopath son, a baleful manager and a selection of drug-fuelled bouncers and lackeys to fight it out to be the new top dog.
Colette Dockery's production for Tower Theatre, running this week at the Bridewell Theatre, captures beautifully both the comedy of the situation and the rising panic among her gang of pilled-up, boozed-up, chain-smoking protagonists. Twitching their way around the stage like caged animals, machine-gunning their way through breathless dialogue, and scrapping and fighting like overgrown school bullies, a virtuoso cast of 6 alpha-males have the piece nailed from the get-go. As the two main contenders to take over the club, Cameron Robertson as Baby (the son) and Jacob Trennery as Mickey (the manager), turn in compelling performances, spinning on a penny between joviality, ersatz bromantics and menace. Robin Hodges and Bryan Fegan as Potts and Sweet respectively ping in and out on a wave of energy, multiplying the laugh quota and setting a tanking pace for their co-actors; for me though, the stand-out among 6 excellent performances is Maxim Thompson, as the ratty, runty, hilarious Skinny, whose pitch-perfect accent and comic timing make for compulsive watching.
The boisterous humour gives way to something darker and nastier after a well-placed interval. Here again, Robertson and Trennery handle their characters deftly, segueing nicely into their gloves-off selves; with Hodges, Fegan and Thompson providing light-relief and tragedy by turns, and a striking Sam South catching both the swagger and the terror of wannabe poster-boy Silver Johnny.
There are a couple of discordant notes in the writing, particularly repeated use of 'bullcrap' as an expletive. I may be showing my age or ignorance, but in a piece full of much stronger language, it jars as a tamer and Americanised version of the bull or bullshit I associate with London-speak. Also, for me, the otherwise excellent Robertson never quite gets to grips with the moments where he bursts threateningly but unnecessarily into song.
Technically I do have a couple of gripes. Sound design (Barry Stone) is unconvincing, the main play-in/scene-change music too evocative of 40's swing to set the tone for a late 50's nightclub. It was also tentatively executed the night I saw the piece, leading to mumblings of 'turn it up a bit' from the bums on seats behind me. A nicely designed set (Roger Beaumont) suffers a bit in wobbly realisation; and I would counsel the otherwise discreet crew to give the audience a moment to catch their breath before rushing on to change the set in the interval. On the up-side, though, the whole is beautifully lit by Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson, well costumed, and achieves exactly the right feel of smoky, scruffy claustrophobia. My niggles by no means detracted from a beautifully conceived, directed and performed piece.