It takes awhile to become accustomed to the rapid fire dialect in Jez Butterworth’s play, but once attuned to its explosive nature, “Mojo” becomes a riveting descent into a dark comic abyss. Tight ensemble acting and a grisly, funny touch of the macabre keeps the tension mounting at an unnerving clip.
In a vicious power struggle for the control of a London nightclub, the conflicting motives of its sleazy employees lead to several bizarre and unexpected turns. When the club’s star attraction — a promising young rock musician (Joseph Kern) — is wooed by a rival venue, two nightclub workers, the edgy Sweets (Patrick Fitzgerald) and the hyperactive Potts (Matthew Ross), conspire to get a piece of the financial stake. Fear for their own safety emerges when manager Mickey (Jordan Lage) solemnly announces that club owner Ezra has been murdered, possibly by a rival entrepreneur.
A chilling discovery of body parts in alley garbage cans and the delivery of an ominous-looking hat box lead to a combustible exchange of accusations. With the hurling of venomous barbs, the play becomes a murder mystery of sorts. Unqualified to successfully operate his late father’s Soho bar, the volatile Baby (Clark Gregg) serves as a natty lure for the ladies and relentlessly bullies Skinny (Chris Bauer), a sniveling go-fer.
As staged by Neil Pepe, the action spins at a furious pace, balancing jest with devilishly clever surprises along the way. Under exaggerated pompadours, Fitzgerald and Ross are quite funny in their desperate attempt to survive the surrounding mayhem, exchanging panicky cockney quips like seasoned vaudevillians.
Gregg creates an unsettling tone as the abusive Baby, and Bauer provides a prelude to the gripping finale, emitting the terrified bleat of impending doom.
With some subtle changes in modest furnishings, a plain brick wall serves as both upstairs and down of the Dean Street club. The sound of jungle drums precedes the acts.
“Mojo,” winner of the 1995 Olivier award for best comedy, has been adapted for the screen by its author, who also directed, and is expected to be released early next year.