London review: Mojo

Mojo sees Grint's stage debut Image credit: Joella Marano via Creative Commons

There is power in pauses, something Ben Whishaw takes full advantage of in this gripping snapshot of crime and intimidation amidst the 1950s London rock ‘n’ roll scene. Whishaw plays Baby, a psychopathic young man whose very presence is electric, inspiring intrigue and fear in his crooked companions. The gruesome death of Baby’s father at the hands of a rival club owner kicks off two hours of claustrophobic paranoia which is both fascinating and exhausting in its intensity.

The production’s success is undeniably due to its tight casting. The most effective relationship, entrenched in manipulation and obsession, is that of Baby and Colin Morgan’s Skinny, a jittery club employee with a sharp temper and a thirst for validation - a weakness which Baby picks at with ominous glee. The script is unrelenting in its attention to their hostility, casting hints at a dark sexual attraction which eventually bubbles to an explosive confrontation.

Rupert Grint’s first foray onto the stage is impressive and, although his portrayal of the nervous Sweets is reminiscent of Ron Weasley, his comic partnership with Daniel Mays (Potts) is a definite success. The pair swiftly develop a connection with the audience, embodying a sense of realism as they cower behind chairs and conspire to flee the club in the face of Baby’s rage.

A fantastic set gives the final flavour to the production; natural light cuts through the clamour of drug-induced chaos and dirty, screeching music in the club’s private rooms, paralleling the stark reality of what the characters face. After the interval, the curtain lifts to reveal a towering spiral staircase leading down to an empty dancefloor. The result is visually striking; a tool to create moral and emotional distance between the characters as the play pushes towards its climax.

Despite Mojo’s atmospheric success, its final moments leave something to be desired. Winning Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries), the coveted young singer who is painted all along as the ultimate prize of the dispute, sounds like the perfect ending on paper, but his passive elopement with an openly aggressive Baby happens too quickly. The empty, deflated dissatisfaction of this final scene does not overshadow the excellence of the rest of the play, but it leaves a sense of missed opportunity for both Harries and Johnny, where breaking the more powerful characters’ cycle of possession would have proved a far more fitting close.

8/10

Mojo is showing in the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End until the 8th February 2014.

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