Marketed with super cool black and white photos of Brylcreemed 1950s rock’n’roll Soho, Mojo comes from the pen of Jez Butterworth, garlanded author of Jerusalem, the smash hit play of the past decade. But could this hype-strewn revival of his 1995 Royal Court debut, also directed by Ian Rickson, be a triumph of style and expectation over substance?
Played out on designer Ultz’s beautiful recreation of the acrid, shabby, beer-stained tattiness of the lowlife Dean St club – a cramped upstairs room in Act I, opening out to a larger club for Act II – it certainly looks impressive. But that it emphatically triumphs is due in large measure to the cracklingly sharp dialogue which packs a hard-man cockney punch even after 18 years.
Butterworth has turned to Ian Rickson for all his major productions; and there is a trust and creative shorthand between them which permeates a sublimely confident production bristling with masculine energy and menace.
The moment Daniel Mays’ Potts begins his opening rat-a-tat set-to with fellow nightclub factotum Sweets (Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, swearing a lot more than his younger fans will probably be used to), he is dazzling.
Mays beautifully presents his character’s working class articulacy as a necessary front for the sweaty, heart-pumping amphetamine-fuelled insecurity of his situation: keeping a violent criminal boss happy while somehow maintaining the gaiety of the swinging club downstairs. Grint also shows his growing maturity as a performer as his much dimmer, but no less frightened, pal called Sweets because of his role in supplying uppers and downers.
But it is with the son of the recently murdered Dean St club owner Ezra that this play really motors. Ben Whishaw (once a pretty formidable Dane) offers up a Hamletesque portrait of Baby, savvy enough to play his new situation with an antic disposition but allowing the deep pain and fear to emerge subtly and incrementally. His father, we soon learn, sexually abused him, but this is a world that cannot afford any pity (his “type?