I went into Mojo with no knowledge or expectations, needless to say the sight of Ben Whishaw topless, destroying furniture and brandishing a cutlass by scene 2 left me a tad surprised.
A comedy play about the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in 1950s Soho, Mojo tells the story of club owner Ezra, who after refusing to sell his prize act is consequently chopped in half and found in two of the bins out the back. The rest is a siege situation, as the remaining workers; including Ezra’s vaguely psychotic son and his burly sidekick, fight it out for power internally, whilst trying to keep rival gang come murderers from stealing their club from the outside.
The script is dark and incredibly funny as it explores the ins and outs of a masculine power struggle with nearly as much swearing and violent sword waving as there are laughs. There are two sets in the play which remain for each act and the simplicity of these gives the actors plenty of space to roam. With the addition of a spiral staircase which joins the upper first half with the downstairs second, there is plenty of room and opportunity for the actors give a very physical performance. Certainly running or jumping up and down this spiral staircase was a help.
But this is a play where the actors shine and it is the ensemble cast that really makes this piece stand out. Ben Whishaw and Daniel Mays are joined by Ron Weasley, Merlin, and Mr Bates from Downton Abbey, who all stand for being unrecognisable from their most famous roles. Rupert Grint pairs up with Daniel Mays as a perfectly executed comedy duo who can only watch on in horror as they find themselves very much out of their depths. Brendan Coyle too is wonderful as the sidekick turned leader whose terrifying presence initially gives him the authority and means he is looked up to, particularly in his semi sinister relationship with the dim witted fall guy Skinny, who Colin Morgan plays with a funny but poignant touch. But it is Ben Whishaw’s turn as the twisted Baby whose childhood abuse at the hands of his father leaves scars apparent in his erratic behaviour, terrifying mood swings and unnatural fondness of the cutlass, which stands out. Undoubtedly one of the finest stage actors of his generation, Whishaw has proven that his stage presence holds your attention regardless of what else is happening, and his performance in Mojo is no different; he is breathtaking and when he is onstage you cannot take your eyes off him.
The play is a startling portrayal of the twisted nature of abuse and patriarchal expectations of power, which despite its foul mouth and violent nature is emotionally stirring at its core. The new revival is incredibly successful, mainly down to having such a stellar cast, and this will hopefully create a whole new set of fans for Jez Butterworth’s debut.