Jez Butterworth’s debut play exploded onto the Royal Court stage two decades ago, with its colourful array of hapless 1950s gangsters getting high on slimming pills and getting sick on too much cake. Shut up in their own Soho club, they try to ride out the storm caused by a business deal gone wrong.
Mojo isn’t Butterworth’s strongest, and to carry it requires greater stage presence and subtler exchanges than this company could achieve this time around.
This production gets off to a good start, with the opening actors building up a comfortable rapport and veering between chattiness and anxiety while their future is decided in the next room. The part of Sweets seems to have been developed far more thoroughly than Rupert Grint’s effort in the recent West End revival, and generally the characterisation achieves a competent show of distinct physicality and somewhat believable 1950s Soho drawls. Unfortunately the usually gripping appearance of Baby, the club-owner’s deranged and confrontational son, manages in this production to bring down everyone’s acting IQ by ten points. What could have been an endearing low-key take at a witty and fast-paced show once described as ‘Beckett on speed’ becomes something more deserving of an A-Level drama studio than their current venue.
The necessary cuts for a hour-long Fringe slot, taking scissors to over half of the original script, have also obscured the play rather than streamlined the plot. Several audience members left the theatre attempting to clarify to each other what exactly had happened. The occasional line also appears to refer to earlier dialogue which hasn’t made it into the final version. I’m slightly concerned the cuts may have been done without Butterworth’s approval, given his usual protective attitude to his own writing, but the show mainly suffers from its artificiality. Some of the more tense scenes struggle when the actors resort to simply bellowing their lines or widening their eyes to cartoon levels. Much movement across the stage is without purpose. The addition of a short dance is enjoyably appropriate, though the following snapshot-scene sequence is too dragged-out and clumsy to achieve its potential. The Lincoln Company have not created an outright poor show, but may have shot themselves in the foot by choosing a play not quite suited to their level of talent. Mojo isn’t Butterworth’s strongest, and to carry it requires greater stage presence and subtler exchanges than this company could achieve this time around.