×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

West End Review: ‘Mojo’

Rupert Grint distances himself from Ron Weasley in Jez Butterworth's foul-mouthed 1995 play, given a London revival with plenty of polish but little feeling.

With:

Daniel Mays, Rupert Grint, Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan, Brendan Coyle, Tom Rhys Harries.

Mix two parts Tarantino with two parts Pinter and one part Mamet — for violence, actor-friendly dialogue and punch, respectively — and serve in 1950s gangland London. That’s “Mojo,” the 1995 debut play by Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem” ) now revived with a headline-grabbing cast including Brendan Coyle (stoic manservant Bates from “Downton Abbey,”) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from “Harry Potter”). It’s a recipe for great expectations but beneath the surface excitement, Ian Rickson’s production elicits surprisingly little feeling. In a fierce comedy ricocheting between torture and death, that’s a serious indictment.

Although the piece is more situation (bitter) comedy than anything, there is a plot. But until the final scene, almost every major action happens offstage. That’s problematic when key undramatized events include a Soho club’s 17-year-old singing sensation Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) being kidnapped, scenes of sexual manipulation, duplicitous behavior and two murders.

The original production caused a sensation, chiefly for Butterworth’s covering device, his exuberant gift for orchestrating giddily graphic, foul-mouthed dialogue shared between a clutch of fast-talking characters. Their riffs with language dazzle audiences and bolster the low-rent characters through power-relationships going badly awry. Given the return of Rickson, Butterworth’s longtime helmer, it’s no surprise that his previous concentration on collective rhythm is once again high. The surprise, however, is that this production’s polish comes at the expense of engaging depth.

In this fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants world, all the lads — it’s an all-male cast — are popping amphetamines. That accounts, in part, for the hyperactive tone of their performances. But there should be a difference between characters being hopped-up and the actors themselves. Here, it’s the actors’ effort that is forever on display.

As chancer Potts, Daniel Mays is so good at this that he literally dances with energy opposite Grint’s amusingly dim Sweets. But undeniably impressive though this is, it’s also highly self-conscious. In most of the exchanges there’s much fast-talking but perilously little listening. The result is that you sit back and admire the effort rather than paying heed to what characters are saying or, crucially, feeling. Suggestions of homoeroticism suggested by the dialogue are under-investigated by the production, and that fact typifies the production in which individual moments are impressive and often funny but cumulative, connected drama is absent.

Colin Morgan grows increasingly powerful as Skinny and the counter-intuitive casting of Coyle brings relaxed power to his portrait as the group’s leader. But as wrecked, malevolent and increasingly pivotal Baby, Ben Whishaw is wholly miscast.

On both stage and screen Whishaw has an unparalleled ability to show vulnerability and victimhood, his face and entire body registering extraordinary shadings of pain. And given that Baby suffers the (off-stage) killing of his father, and more besides, it’s clear why he was cast. But vicious, dominating danger — and, crucially, the essential rage — are not in his repertoire. His attempts at it appear increasingly forced. You can see him charting each stage of the descent into cliched, sing-song psychosis but it never feels frightening.

Predating and, arguably, predicting the onslaught of Brit gangster movies of the late 90’s, the milieu and tone of “Mojo” made a major impact on its first appearance. For all its initially impressive energy, the revival feels dated, its lack of chilling terror creating an evening of strikingly little substance.

West End Review: 'Mojo'

Harold Pinter Theater, London; 785 seats; Opened, reviewed Nov 13, 2013. £55 ($88); Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Production:

A Sonia Friedman Prods/ in association with Tulchin Bartner Prods., Rupert Gavin, Tanya Link Prods. and JFL Theatricals/GHF Prods. presentation of a play in two acts by Jez Butterworth.

Creative:

Directed by Ian Rickson; sets and costumes, Ultz; lighting, Charles Balfour; sound, Simon Baker, music, Stephen Warbeck; production stage manager, Ben Delfont.

Cast:

Daniel Mays, Rupert Grint, Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan, Brendan Coyle, Tom Rhys Harries.

More Legit

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content