The prospect of Ian Rickson’s new production of Mojo is almost as mouth-watering as the scents of rich wintery cooking beginning to waft around the West End.
The reality is far less comforting but just as enjoyable.
For this revival of Jez Butterworth’s dark comedy premiered by Rickson in 1995, the former Royal Court Artistic Director has assembled a cast of our most recognisable and talented actors; Merlin’s Colin Morgan, The Hour and Skyfall’s Ben Whishaw, Mrs Biggs’ Daniel Mays, Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle and, making his stage debut, Daniel Radcliffe’s long time Harry Potter sidekick Rupert Grint.
The Olivier Award-winning debut play from Butterworth, who went on to write the mightily acclaimed Jerusalem, is a tale of male power plays and jostling for position.
Set in a 1950s nightclub as hip-swivelling rock and rollers are becoming the talk of the town, everything looks to be on the up for the associates as their discovery, Silver Johnny, looks set to be headed for the big time. But when their boss is discovered secreted amid the rubbish and their new teen idol, a 1950s Justin Bieber if you will, disappears, hope and optimism go with him to be replaced by fear, paranoia and lust for survival.
So how is Grint in his first stage outing? Well, while playing a twitchy, nervous sidekick might not be the greatest stretch for the former Ron Weasley, the stage magic he conjures in his double act with Mays could have been created in Hogwarts’ potion labs.
With Mays, who is always a treat on stage, cranking up the physicality of Potts, a nearly man eager for success but disinterested in taking charge, the pair knock Butterworth’s sharp exchanges between themselves like a game of linguistic ping pong.
Coyle, like Grint, suffers from playing a role not dissimilar to that with which he is most associated, Downton’s troubled valet Mr Bates. Here, as second in command Mickey, he is a strong, imposing presence, his arrival casting a shadow across proceedings.
It is left to Whishaw and Morgan, surely two of our most talented young performers on stage or screen, to show their versatility again.
Morgan, as the wannabe Skinny, is driven by resentment and fear. He also delivers the most chilling, audience-silencing moment of the evening.
Whishaw is almost unrecognisable as Baby, the actor who was so quick-witted and sharply intelligent in The Hour turning in a remarkable performance as the boss’s son who has anger issues, and little ability to show emotion or function in the real world.
With dialogue as snappy as Butterworth’s, as the colleagues – I’d hesitate to call them friends – jostle, lie, argue and fight to make sense of their situation, Rickson has to keep the pace high and the adrenalin pumping. For the most part he achieves this, though Act II occasionally feels a touch baggy when it should be building.
When all is said and done – a lot is said, not so much done – Mojo is undeniably a treasure trove of British acting talent. The future of the British stage is far safer in their hands than the future of Ezra’s club is in the hands of their characters.