Jez Butterworth’s been busy. Following last year's The River at the Royal Court Theatre – his first offering since the multi-award-winning 2009 hit Jerusalem – he and director Ian Rickson have reunited once again for this revival of Butterworth’s debut, Mojo, which first thrilled audiences at the Royal Court back in 1995.
The Pinteresque black comedy is set in 1950s London, in a seedy Soho club. The morning after a deal gone wrong, the club’s manager, Ezra, is found sawn in half in two dustbins, and his pride and joy, the beautiful young rock ’n’ roll sensation Silver Johnny (newcomer Tom Rhys Harries), kidnapped by rival club owner and general bad man Mr Ross. Now, Ezra’s gang of pill-popping misfit speed freaks must stand their ground to keep hold of the club – and their lives.
Butterworth’s glowing reputation will ensure this production is a sell-out, as will its star-studded cast, which includes lovely Ben Whishaw, the excellent Daniel Mays, Merlin’s Colin Morgan, Brendan Coyle of Downton and Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame.
Bates – oh, sorry – Brendan Coyle plays the ruthlessly ambitious Mickey, who takes charge of the now-leaderless gang. Whishaw is Baby, the emotionally damaged and mentally unhinged son of the body currently residing in the bins. Merlin – sorry, Morgan – is Skinny, a sulking, whining kiss-arse who man-crushes on a contemptuous Baby, then cosies up to the boss man once Baby decides to torture his unwanted groupie. Mays brings a fantastic energy to the stage as the swaggering, twitchy Potts and, making his theatre debut, Grint gives a confident performance as his sidekick, Sweets. (Though hearing the words ‘minge’ and ‘pussy hair’ come out of Ron Weasley’s mouth is…well, something else.)
It’s a tense two and a half hours that grows increasingly unsettling as the group begins to fall apart while waiting for the knock from Mr Ross and his heavies. And Whishaw keeps the audience on their toes as the unpredictable Baby, prowling around the stage brandishing a cutlass one minute and a fistful of toffee apples the next, and generally terrifying everyone, like a psychotic toddler with a machine gun and a temper. The rocket-fast back-and-forth banter between the boys won the play an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy back in 1995 and makes this static show (which is set entirely in the club) gripping from start to finish. Perhaps not the epic triumph Jerusalem was (yeah, good luck ever topping that), but this dark story of betrayal proves quite a thrill.
Mojo is currently booking up until 25 January 2014. Tickets £10-£55. Go to www.mojotheplay.com. Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary review ticket.