Preview: MOJO

ZoƩ Barnes 7 May 2017

Sitting in on a rehearsal of ‘MOJO’, I am privy to a flurry of activity; a drum kit must be set up, a fight sequence practiced and dance moves perfected. This buzz intimates the frenetic nature of a play set in a ‘dirty, drug infested, pill-popping’ world of 50s Soho. MOJO captures the grit and verve of the period in its story and setting. Following two business rivals and their increasingly tortuous and bloody battle over a talented young singer, Silver Johnny, the play weaves through the, occasionally gory, hinterlands of gang rivalry and revenge. 

For directors Emma Corrin and Harry Redding, ‘MOJO’ is a labour of love that has been in the pipeline for quite some time. Both remembered seeing the show in London and being enamored and were determined to stage it in Cambridge, whether this term or next. Luckily, they managed to secure a slot this term and have pulled out all the stops to recreate their initial enthralling experience.

The meticulous attention to detail is apparent in every aspect of the play, from props such as jukeboxes and flip up combs to the original 50s inspired tunes penned by Tiernan Banks to be played live during certain scenes at a club, and gives it, paradoxically, a sense of both other-worldliness and authenticity. Corrin emphasizes that this authenticity aims to reflect not only the vibrancy of the club scene inhabited by the characters but also the seedy, less glamorous aspects which are often glossed over by nostalgia.

In describing the play’s conception, playwright Jez Butterworth claims he envisaged a “fairytale… [about] two kingdoms, two kings, both of whom are off-stage, and with Silver Johnny like a princess who gets stolen from one by the other.” This sounds positively Shakespearean and the storyline has much to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, but according to Corrin the play’s power lies in its many levels. Though it follows people behaving in uncritically misogynistic ways, the show critiques the façade of expected masculinity, and its corollary bravado. This is a theme reinforced by the gender-blind casting of the show, an artistic decision with consequences that subtly but powerfully crop out throughout the show; an example Corrin gives me being a scene where a male character speak derogatively of fan-girls is given an undercurrent of irony as he turns out to be played by a woman.

Throughout the rehearsal, I am overwhelmed by the infectious energy of the cast and crew, who have been working collaboratively in their creation of the play. Their energy ensures‘MOJO’ certainly has more than enough mojo to make it worth your while seeing this week at the ADC.

Get a sense of the buzz by watching the trailer here