Caroline Gaunt tracks Mojo as it oscillates between moments of brilliance and ones of disappointing mediocrity.
Mojo lurches in a drug-and-alcohol induced haze from searing highs to crashingly devastating lows, and The Latest Theatre Company’s production of Jez Butterworth’s critically acclaimed black comedy oscillated in a similar fashion from moments of outstanding brilliance – provided entirely by the five lead actors – to ones of disappointing mediocrity.
In a play with vaguely Beckettian overtones (the five main actors remain trapped in the squalid surroundings of an out-of-hours nightclub for the duration of the show) running to nearly three hours, the actors have the mammoth task of maintaining tension and audience interest throughout. For the most part, this was artfully achieved. Guy Hughes as Baby had possibly the most difficult task. His character segued seamlessly from lovable vulnerability into quasi-psychopathic evil. Hughes delivered by far the standout performance of the night – he was quite simply incredible to watch, bringing a burning intensity to every scene and controlling the shifts in tone with consummate skill.
He demonstrated by far the most impressive characterisation, although he was nearly matched by George Haynes who gave a brilliantly manic performance as Sweets, and along with Gareth Davies as Potts, expertly mingled moments of hilarity with genuine pathos. Davies and Haynes were an excellent double act but tended to garble their lines, particularly in the initial scenes. This was a shame, as Mojo is such a wordy and slang-ridden play that it relies on vocal clarity to ensure the audience actually know what’s going on. However, all things considered, acting-wise Mojo was a triumph – there was no weak link in the cast and all six actors demonstrated impressive chemistry on stage which carried the show.
It is disappointing that the same can’t be said for the technical elements of the show which were, at worst, a mess. Scene changes took far too long – to the extent that some members of the audience seemed convinced that the prolonged silence could only mean the end of the show. Lighting was inconsistent, particularly in the ‘cellar’ scene which was inexplicably performed half in near darkness and half in blinding spotlight. Any poignancy which could have been brought to Xander Drury’s (Skinny Luke) death scene was near enough ruined by clumsy staging.
Director Andra Catincescu did an undeniably brilliant job of coordinating the performances of her actors but I can’t help but wish that similar close attention had been paid to ironing out the technical problems. And then of course there is the issue of the script itself, which I’m not entirely sure is as brilliant as it purports to be. It’s never a good sign when audience members prize themselves from their seats muttering ‘that was bloody long’ at the end of a performance.
Jez Butterworth definitely indulges himself with Mojo, and by the time events have actually reached any semblance of a conclusion you find it difficult still to care about any of the characters because things have been moving around in circles with little dramatic impetus for so long. To sum up, Mojo is brilliantly acted, and worth seeing for Hughes’ intensity alone – but technically, a resounding could-do-better.