Harold Pinter Theatre, until 25 January 2014
Even before the curtain rose, excited anticipation was overwhelmingly present in the theatre. Not only was this the first major revival of Mojo since its original Olivier award-winning run in 1996, but the cast promised brilliant ensemble acting: Brendan Coyle (Downtown Abbey), Rupert Grint (Harry Potter), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), and Colin Morgan (Merlin) joined stage veteran Daniel Mays and newcomer Tom Rhys Harries. Despite the unbelievable hype, it did not disappoint in the slightest.
Even without the A-list names, the intelligent script and fast-paced story made for a thrilling evening of theatre. The action takes place in 1958 Soho, where the mob-run club Atlantic has become the hottest place in town after picking up the new rock n’ roll star, Silver Johnny. After the two bosses refuse to sell their prize act – and one wild night of drug-induced inattentiveness – Silver Johnny disappears but one of the two bosses is discovered, legs in one trashcan and head in another. The plot is then driven forward by the survivor’s conflicting interests in their bids for attention, power, and pure survival. Laughter alternates with terrifying intensity, and the ambiguous ending leaves the question of comedy or tragedy up to the audience.
Silver Johnny himself is only seen on stage twice, but Harries captures the teenage rock star persona well. Brendan Coyle’s Mikey has the ability to command the entire stage through his silent presence… It’s captivating, especially considering the crazy antics of his fellow performers. Colin Morgan is Skinny, the club’s dim-witted cloakroom attendant who earns more and more respect from Mickey as the play progresses. He keeps the role’s wonderful inherent comedy whilst never devolving into stereotype; Skinny is entirely human and sympathetic, and thus his character’s journey becomes more poignant.
The show-stealer is Ben Whishaw as Baby, the abused son of the murdered mobster. It is clear from the start that Baby is chillingly volatile, charismatic, arrogant, and desperately seeking validation. His magnetic charm and horrible past make one hope for the best, and yet it is impossible to fully sympathise with his punchy psychotic violent outbursts. Whishaw’s performance is riveting. (He can sing. He can dance. And he looks damn fine without a shirt on. Forget Silver Johnny, Ben Whishaw has more than enough talent and raw sexual appeal for the entire night).
Mojo, however, would have been merely a brilliant character showcase with no coherency if not for Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint as Potts and Sweets, the club’s upstairs functionaries. Their lightning-quick repartee and dynamic physical acting keeps the stage pulsing with energy, and these antics quite literally hold the play together: they serve to deliver key background information, add laughter (however black and bitter) to the most shiver-inducing scenes, and unite all clashing motivations into a single plot. Both sides of the duo deliver in spades. Mays’ superb diction, comic timing, and over-the-top physicality mark him as a seasoned actor in top form. Although Grint is definitely not as experienced – Mojo marks his stage debut – he keeps up admirably and never lets his partner down.
Mojo is running at the West End until January 29, 2014. Tickets can be bought here.
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