**** by Dominic Maxwell
Four young wideboys are hanging out backstage at a Soho bar, talking in awe about the Buick parked outside. It’s summer 1958. Little do they know that the bar’s owner has just been slaughtered, his body stuffed into two bins outside. Welcome to Mojo, Jez Butterworth’s darkly funny first play, now revived with an all-star cast by Ian Rickson.
Mojo was first seen at the Royal Court in 1995, a remarkable debut from the man who went on to write Jerusalem. It takes a long while to blossom from being quirky exercise in style, packed with dynamite dialogue, into something with a real resonance. Good job, then, that it has a lot to offer along the way: the opening scene, for example, in which a rocker called Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) gets ready for a gig.
After a dance both posturing and primal (care of the choreographer, Quinny Sacks) he jumps into darkness and rock’n’roll turmoil. It’s electrifying.
After that, this terrific cast tears gleefully into five meaty roles. Rupert Grint (Ron from the Harry Potter films) makes an assured stage debut as Sweets, a pill-popping, pill-dealing kid with a hollow confidence. His opening dialogue with Daniel Mays’s garrulous, sweaty Potts is played out at a beguilingly brisk comic pitch.
If style appears to be the substance here, that’s because these lads are all talk, all aspiration. Even when Brendan Coyle (Bates from Downton Abbey) arrives as Mickey, the stalwart lieutenant of the slaughtered bar-owner Ezra, the boys’ inventive gabbiness keeps Mojo both distinctive and disposable. Ultz’s design, complete with curved wooden bar and two-storey spiral stairs, is a delight. Will this ever be more than platinum-grade pastiche, though?
Oh yes. And Ben Whishaw (Q from Skyfall) as Ezra’s son, Baby, is the heart of it. He is sinewy, unnervingly still, angry, unpredictable. Cool to the point of crazy. He reacts to his father’s death with nagging chat about how Colin Morgan’s cadaverous Skinny has nicked his fashion sense. You dread what is really inside him.
Whishaw handles Baby’s dry wit — “There’s nothing like someone cutting your dad in two to clear your mind” — without resorting to off-the-peg psycho glibness. By the end, he is crying one second, bursting into song the next. It’s a performance far outside of his usual range, one that reminds us just how versatile an actor he is. When it all turns from talk to proper conflict, proper danger, in the final half-hour, Mojo takes on a memorable sense of consequence, a vivid sense of damage. Something stylish becomes substantial. These wannabe bad boys are living the dream at last, and wishing that they could wake up from it.Box office: 08448 717622, to Jan 25