Mojo @ Harold Pinter Theatre (Ben Whishaw Colin Morgan Rupert Grint Brendan Coyle)

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So what do you say about a play you’ve been anticipating for months? When Mojo was first announced and I heard that Rupert Grint was going to debut in his first stage role, I was a smidge excited. Especially as he would be starring alongside Ben Whishaw, who I was dying to see on stage again after Peter and Alice. I quickly bought up tickets for the first and last preview. Then they announced Colin Morgan and I kind of went a bit nuts with the ticket buying for the rest of the run. It’s like the gods decided to put on a play with Claire’s dream cast. Because Daniel Mays and Brendan Coyle are also two that would get me to go see any show.

So you get a stellar cast like that, and a play like Mojo, and you know there’s no chance it will suck.

Writer Jez Butterworth, 25 years old at the time, debuted Mojo at the Royal Court in 1995. The play won the Olivier for Best New Comedy, and Jez won a couple of awards for Best New Playwright. It was well received, to say the least. The cast in 1995 included Tom Hollander as Baby and Aidan Gillen as Skinny, and it too was directed by Ian Rickson, as this new production is.

Tom Rhys Harries (Silver Johnny) in rehearsals for Mojo, photo by Simon AnnandIt’s 1958, it’s Soho, and a young 17 year old rock singer dubbed Silver Jonny (Tom Rhys-Harries), in a shiny silver suit and pink shirt, with his blond hair slicked back, and as pretty as they come, opens the show with some moves that set the scene. He disappears from stage for most of the rest of the play, mores the pity, but he’s in the back of your mind as so much of the show centres on his character. In the next scene, Sydney Potts (Daniel Mays) describes to Sweets (Rupert Grint) how the girls go wild for Silver Jonny, so wild they soil themselves. And as he says, “anything makes polite young ladies come their cocoa in public is worth taking a look at”.

It’s Ezra’s Atlantic Club and everything seems business as usual, until the next morning they find out that Ezra is dead. Sweets and Potts, along with runt of the club Skinny (Colin Morgan), Ezra’s psychotic son Baby (Ben Whishaw) and the older leader of the group Mickey (Brendan Coyle), are all terrified they might be next. They decide to sweat it out in the club for the weekend until everything has cooled down.

But tensions between the group run high, with suspicious and accusations flying, causing a strained atmosphere that you know just isn’t going to end well.

But this is a comedy, if you couldn’t tell by the synopsis. One that is dark and humorous, with constant flares of genius. I’m generally not a fan of comedy in TV and film, but on stage it seems to work for me a lot more, and I’ve enjoyed a few comedies in recent times. Mojo is the kind of play where you are nervously tittering throughout, knowing that it’s not not all going to be fun and games and waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you.

Rupert Grint (Sweets) in rehearsals for Mojo photo by Simon Annand

The writing is strong, lyrical at times, and the characters nicely drawn. Sweets and Potts are a wonderful comedy duo that play off each other well, while Skinny is appropriately irritating and awkward to the point of discomfort. Baby. Well Baby is the star of the show, the unmistakable loose canon who sets you on edge in every scene and drives you crazy.

The cast in this version were very strong for a first preview. I was surprised at how strong they were in fact, though like any show they will only get better with time. Rupert Grint was surprisingly good and self assured on stage, and it was great to see him there. I’d say he’s played it a little safe for his first stage role – at times I would slip into thinking about Ron Weasley, but I am certain that will change with time. From both an acting and audience perspective. I felt just the same seeing Daniel Radcliffe in Equus and even seeing Colin Morgan in Our Private Life when I still associated him so heavily with Merlin.

But that is definitely not the case with Colin anymore. I’ve watched him shake that off very successfully and he just gets better. His Skinny is well played, and his twitchy, somewhat sleazy character plays off Ben Whishaw’s Baby so very well. There’s a barely hidden sexual tension between the two that underwrites all their interactions.

Also, cheekbones that could cut glass. I’ve never seen them pop so hard. ;)

Colin Morgan (Skinny) in Rehearsals for Mojo, photo by Simon Annand

Ben Whishaw, of course, gives it his all. He nails the crazycakes Baby character effortlessly, barely displaying any kind of emotion, making the smile freeze on your lips. He can go from strutting around to murderous frenzy in a moment, causing the tension to ratchet up as the play moves on. His face is the one to watch throughout – his cold looks, his empty smiles, they’re all enough to remind you that this comedy isn’t light. And that Ben is one brilliant actor.

Ben Whishaw (Baby) in rehearsals for Mojo photo by Simon AnnandBy the way, he’s also a great singer. Colour me surprised, although I shouldn’t have been since he’s just been cast as Freddie Mercury. I enjoyed his voice a lot.

Daniel Mays as Potts is hilarious. His is a stand out performance, although perhaps it’s also a stand out role, with some of the best lines in the whole play. His performance was full of energy and exuberance, pumping up the laughs and lulling you into a false sense of security with his and Sweets rather bumbling approach to everything.

Brendan Coyle was solid, but the character of Mickey did little to really focus on. He’s probably the least well drawn of the characters, but is one that shows the most remorse as the play ends.

There’s some scenes in the play that will get the fangirls going (myself included). Colin Morgan in white underpants, tied to a jukebox, being bullied by Ben Whishaw is one that will stay with you. I won’t spoil the scene, but suffice to say they get up close and personal. (And, yes, yes, I did describe Colin’s thighs as quivering earlier, which seems to have stuck with some!) Some of Baby’s ‘Kiss My Pegs’ rage is so crackling with sexual tension you want them to just do it and put us all out of our misery. Ben Whishaw, by the way, looks nothing like what you’d imagine with his shirt off. Toned, tanned and gorgeous. I always imagined him being willowy and pale, but also gorgeous.

Finally, some props to Tom Rhys-Harries who has a small role in this production and spends most of it upside down. I’ve had my eye on him for a while and it’s great to see him in a play of this calibre. I’m excited to see his career climb.

Negatives? Well it wasn’t perfect. Down to the writing mainly. There’s some plot holes to be honest, but easily overlooked. There was some nerves on stage, but let’s be fair as it was first preview. All in all, I give it a massive thumbs up. Having seen some real tosh recently on stage, it’s so brilliant to be excited about a play again.

Buy tickets for Mojo.

  • Naomi Tilton

    Thank you for the review. I wish I had the opportunity to see all these fine actors on stage together. It’s certainly a boon for every one of their fans to see them perform live and do so well.

    I am envious that you got the opportunity to see Colin Morgan in white underpants, tied to a jukebox, being bullied by Ben Whishaw…That’s a mental image I won’t soon forget.

  • london-reviews

    Hello! You’re welcome for the review. I’m glad some people have enjoyed reading it. It really is fab to see all of them perform to such a high standard. I’m impressed with all of them. And grateful for the opportunity to see the show – I feel very lucky. :)

  • Neil Robson

    Mojo – November 4th 2013. I was anticipating this play a great deal because of the cast, but what a huge disappointment it proved to be. You could drive a truck through the holes in the plot and having five fine actors hurling abuse at each other for two hours just wore me down. A thin plot and a waste of talent, sadly. Daniel Mays and Brendan Coyle – you are much better than that. As for Ron Weasley, well he just played Ron Weasley.

    • london-reviews

      Gosh, you’re the first person I’ve come across that disliked it. Although I totally agree about the plot holes, I was rather partial to it. (As I’m sure you can tell from the review!) I like the interactions between the characters in this play – the double act of Sweets and Potts, and the fraught relationship between Baby and Skinny. And to some extent the close relationship between Skinny and Mickey (and how that can be interpreted in different ways). I liked the tone and the dark humour. I love a good, psychotic character too, and I thought Ben Whishaw played it marvellously.

      I wouldn’t say it was everyone’s cup of tea, of course. There was a woman grumbling a bit on her way out last time I saw it. But I love to get different perspectives. Thank you for commenting!

    • Dan

      Ron Weasley is a character, the name of the actor is Rupert Grint, at least learn his name. You might dislike him but that little comment is just disrespectful. To him and to all of the rest of the cast that is reminded for one of their most famous characters only.

    • theatre goer

      Saw this last on the 5th Nov and was somewhat underwhelmed too. Totally agree with Neil. Clearly good actors with little for the audience to get hold of. We saw Chimarica at this theatre 4 weeks ago and the contrast is brutal. There was no “names” in that play, indeed a few of them were in the pub opposite within 10 minutes of the curtain, but one held us enthralled, and the other was just 5 actors talking on the stage. The curtain call said it all. Polite applause and a scramble for the door. The best thing was it didn’r drag on for too long. Jerusalem, this certainly isn’t. Awaiting the critics reviews with interest. Will they score it for what they see?

      • london-reviews

        Agree, it can’t really hold a candle to Chimerica. That was an experience and probably one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. I absolutely loved it.

        I saw Mojo on the first preview and there were three curtain calls – the applause was pretty ferocious. The play is somewhat dividing, and I suppose it’ll be interesting to see which way the critics fall. During it’s first run in 1995, Mojo was very well received. In my review I noted it won the Olivier for Best New Comedy and Jez won a couple of significant awards for most promising playwright that year. Critics were into the play then, so it’ll be interesting to see how they feel about the newest version. I personally think the actors did excellently with the material – it’s a great cast and I personally like the play a lot.

        • theatre goer

          Maybe the world has moved on since 1995? If you’re not going to have a fantastic production, and this didn’t, then the script has got to be good. This one wasn’t. Perhaps we have been spoiled by Enron, Jerusalem, A Curious Incident, WarHorse, Frankenstein and others that just blow us away with their invention and imagination.

    • Red Cedar

      Agree with Mr. Robson 100%. A big disappointment. Not terribly funny and a massive waste of potential in a cast with clearly so much talent. Don’t know how this won an Olivier for comedy. Shouty, hysterical slapstick and hollow.

  • http://blakefraina.com Blake Fraina

    I saw this at the Royal Court on my honeymoon in August 1995. I can’t say I remember much of the plot at this point, but I vividly recall that the curtain came up on a man, stumbling about the stage, wearing nothing from the waist down. We were sitting in the front row mezzanine, beside a family with a girl who appeared to be about nine years old. She was just munching on her Cadbury, completely unfazed. During the interval, Steve and I mused about how odd it was to see a young child at such an adult play and she interjected something about how she’d seen alot of theatre and didn’t find this all that shocking. We felt so provincial! Wish I had seen it with Wishaw and Grint. Lucky you!

  • Malene

    I’ve seen Mojo twice and actually wish I could see it again. Daniel Mays was the absolute star of the play for me, but all the actors did a brilliant job.
    I loved the completely inappropiate humour and I loved how the chamber play feel allows all the actors to fully let the characters frollic on stage :)

  • Rachel

    Agree completely with those expressing feelings of being underwhelmed! Had been looking forward to this for months – especially the hugely talented Ben Wishaw, who we’d seen a few months earlier in Peter and Alice. The whole cast give good performances – Mr Grint gave a solid performance for his first time in the West End, and of course Ben was excellent (having said that Colin Morgan should have a special mention as it is the chemistry between Baby and Skinny which gives Ben something to play off). The final curtain came down, there was rapturous applause, a few standing ovations and my partner and I looked at each other and said “have we been watching the same play?” For us the play just didn’t work; as somebody else here has already said, maybe we have moved on from 1995 and expect more. The holes make it an ineffective drama and you mentioned the best line in the show (which was the only one which made me ‘titter’), so I certainly didn’t feel it was a ‘hilarious portrait of gang warfare in the 1950s’ as quoted in the programme. I think it is an actor’s play – if you enjoy watching ‘the craft’ then this is for you. If you want to be entertained, moved etc there are other better plays out there.

  • Gman

    I went to see it last Friday as I am a huge fan of the actors. It was dreadful, the actors tried their best but the play is a complete and utter dud. A few people were laughing and think they must not get out much as it was not really funny. Worst thing I have seen in over 20 years visiting the West End. Don’t wast your money or time.

  • Barbara Hollis

    My friend and I sat through the first half of this play and were not sure whether to laugh or cry. Don’t get me wrong ‘comedy’ it wasn’t and if we were going to cry it was sitting and watching such a huge waste of talent. This was a truly awful play and I cannot imagine why having aired in the nineties someone felt it necessary to bring it back to the stage. Daylight robbery that is what I felt having paid over £35 to sit in an extremely uncomfortable chair wedged next to the edge of the upper circle and watching such tripe. As a previous reviewer wrote do not be tempted to buy tickets you will be sorely disappointed.

  • Claire

    Have seen the play twice this last weekend, and I have tickets to see it again in January…and I loved it. I honestly, genuinely loved it. Initially got tickets because I am a huge fan of one of the cast…and I did wonder whether I’d like it as it’s not the usual genre or storyline I’d choose to watch. But, I was riveted and followed the action on stage, without just watching the one member of cast I’m a fan of. I thought the acting by all cast members to be seamless. I found it funny, hilarious in parts, dark, sad and the ending still makes me jump! Sweets and Potts have a great chemistry and bounce off each other so well – a little comedy duo there. I do believe Rupert Grint has found another niche for his acting talent. Yes, the script could perhaps be better in places – some dialogue probably not needed, but the cast deliver every line perfectly…certain lines still make me laugh now. And I’m grateful I get to see it again!

  • http://ohvitamea.tumblr.com Vicki

    I went to see it and quite enjoyed it! The first half hour or so was dire but once you just accept that its a silly play with lots of crude humour you’ll enjoy it. It’s a nice evening out but I wouldn’t pay more than £30 for a ticket.

  • Ryant

    Such a waste of talent.

    I admire all the actors talent but the play was just rubbish. I think some people go to watch the stars live, and laugh when they do nothing so odd to hear. My advice don’t go and wait until the actors are in something worthy of their talent.

  • Hannah

    How long did the play last for? I can’t wait to watch it in January.

    • london-reviews

      Hiya, the play lasts for about 2 hours 30 mins with a 20 minute interval. :)

  • Hannah

    Hey, saw this in October during the previews and loved it! Was wondering what time you have gone to try and get tickets on the day of the performance? If you have, what sort of time would you say is a good time to get there? Would love to go and see it again!

    • london-reviews

      Hi there, I’ve heard day tickets are massively in demand and people are getting there super early, particularly at the weekend. Theatre monkey has a good section for Mojo:

      http://www.theatremonkey.com/dayseatfinder.htm

      Very few seats, sell out quickly.
      Reader report: 26th October 2013: Limited to 2 per person. All seats gone by 8am today. 5 of us queuing at 6.30am.
      Reader report: 9 November 2013: 7.25am, 13 in line.

      I hope that helps.

  • Emily

    I went to see the play a few weeks ago, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I can imagine it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and admittedly the initial reason I went was because I am a massive fan of one of the actors in particular; but I thought it was hilarious. And I thought every single one of the actors was phenomenal, particularly Ben, Daniel and Colin. I would defiantly recommend it, and I would be more than happy to watch it again!

  • Fitz

    I saw this a week ago and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I went in blind, did not know the story and hadn’t seen previous productions. Yes, you have to suspend logic and just go with it. But isn’t that the joy of theatre? It draws you in and takes you on a journey.

    The audience was laughing and the actors (I felt) really played to that feedback. Perhaps because it is near the end of it’s run, it’s more finely tuned?

    My major criticism is the discussion between Sweets and Potts at the beginning. One of the actors gave the impression that this was a finely timed play and he had to get his lines out by such a time or else. He didn’t wait for the laughter to die down or project over it. I’m a native English speaker and I was in a “good” seat yet I struggled to understand the first couple of words of his lines. This was only for 8/10 mins. I don’t know if he was given a cue/elbowed etc but he eventually relaxed and slowed down/enunciated. Maybe it was just nerves?

    Again, I did enjoy this play and I would definitely recommend it to people. But spending time at the start thinking: “Hang on, what? Say that again” was disappointing.