The late 1950s, a greyer, less intoxicating era than the “swinging sixties”, is the setting for Jez Butterworth’s Mojo. Following a gang of London toughs this wickedly funny take on the sleazy club scene of the time is one glorious piece of work.
Butterworth, then 26, had a smash hit on his hands after this play, his first, premiered at the Royal Court in 1995. He wowed the critics and the audiences came.
This revival, directed by Iain Sinclair, has a lot to recommend it. For a start it’s chock full of ‘so hot right now’ actors. It’s something to see the likes of Josh McConville, Eamon Farren, Ben O’Toole and as a late replacement for Sam Haft, a heroic Lindsay Farris, together on the Wharf 1 stage. The set design by Pip Runciman perfectly evokes the Soho club, seedy and unsafe, where the action takes place and Nicholas Rayment’s lighting compliments the grimy aesthetic. There is a tight live band with drummer/percussionist Alon Ilsar’s menacing underscore further enhancing the atmosphere. If anything, this production pushes too hard.
GALLERY: Photos from Mojo. Photos: Brett Boardman
Sinclair and his cast are obviously relishing this opportunity. Not so much gangsters as misfits, our protagonists shoot zinging dialogue at one another, so rapidly and ferociously it makes your head spin. The virtuosic exchanges and the dark comedy are well executed but at times some restraint in the staging might have allowed the language and the characters to spin their magic. Too often I was distracted by gratuitous theatricality. At some point I thought I should care (but didn’t) about these pretenders as their worlds fall apart, triggered by their boss, who’s missing then duly turns up, sawn in half, in two garbage bins.
“You know, there's nothing like someone cutting your dad in two for clearing the mind" states Baby, a very lost soul, played by Farris. The dead club owner’s son is easily the play’s most interesting character and Farris makes him coolly sensual as well as very dangerous. The sexual tension between him and Farren’s hapless Skinny is palpable. McConville and O’Toole prove a great comic double act as Potts and Sweets and finally, Tony Martin, after an absence of 28 years, makes a welcome return to the STC stage, stamping his authority on the older Mickey.
[Main image] Eamon Farren and Josh McConville. Photos: Brett Boardman
Mojo is on at the Sydney Theatre Company Wharf 1 theatre. Bookings: 02 9250 1777 or www.sydneytheatre.com.au