OT’s Mojo: ‘rip-roaring, searing black comedy’

First premiered in 1995, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Mojo’ is a rip-roaring, searing black comedy that takes us right to the dark underbelly of gang warfare in late 1950s Soho. The stage is masked by a fug of smoke, and the scent of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll is rife in the seedy backroom of Ezra’s Atlantic Club, where the drama of the play unfolds.

When teenage rock’n’roll sensation Silver Johnny bursts onto the scene, a silver-suited, hair-gelled heartthrob who’s sure to make it big, a fierce rivalry ensues between gangland bosses Ezra, owner of the Atlantic Club, and the mysterious yet menacing Sam Ross. This is no ordinary rivalry, however, and it’s clear that business has turned ruthless when Ezra’s body turns up sawn in half, and deposited in two bins outside the Atlantic Club. This sends the hapless, warring employees at the club into freefall, playing psychological games in a desperate effort to cling onto what little they’ve got.

Butterworth’s caustic, fast-paced dialogue takes all the bravado and mind games to the extreme, with situations escalating to the point of real danger. The sharp, energetic performances, and witty dialogue zing across the stage, really forcing you to keep up. This is a play which takes no prisoners, and leaves no man behind, creating a frenzied atmosphere which reflects its speed-fuelled setting of late 50s Soho. The visual effects of the staging, costumes and lighting are also striking, the cards, booze and sequins strewn across the floor all a reminder of the carelessness, hedonism and hysteria of the era.

The cast all deliver excellent, frenetic performances, each of which demand your attention at all times. Every actor gives it their all with their facial expressions, constantly making you question what their character is really thinking. The beauty of this play is that no-one can be trusted – there is always something hidden under the surface, and the cast do a fantastic job of encouraging the audience to question their every move.

Fear, shock and terror are what draws this play together, with every situation becoming darker than the next. The thrilling power struggle between Ezra’s son, Baby and his sidekick, Mickey constantly keeps the audience guessing – one minute we’re sure Mickey’s in control, especially after telling Baby to get out of the club for good, but then everything is turned on its head when Baby saunters back into the club, locking Silver Johnny up in a trunk and acting as if he owns the place once again. The heart-stopping finale also succeeds in completely subverting expectations, with a shock ending that ensures that no-one is certain of their place in this new world of disrepair.

With expertly-delivered lines, a committed and energetic cast, and fantastically well-researched and authentic staging and costumes, OT’s ‘Mojo’ is a play that is sure to knock any audience senseless.

Ananya Sriram