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Comedy Fringe

‘Overlong and underpowered’: Mojo Review

Mojo is the first play written by Jez Butterworth and, for all its strengths, now seems sophomoric compared to his more recent, nuanced work. However, it remains a gift for any cast, full of witty rapid-fire dialogue and interesting characters. It is just a shame that this group of actors does not take advantage of the material. For the most part, they speak their lines so quickly that the words become either unintelligible or simply meaningless. What should be a black comedy raises at most half a dozen chuckles from the audience over a drawn-out 80 minutes, largely because the group do not truly engage with the script. 

Set in Soho in 1958, Butterworth’s play explores the power struggle that emerges between a crew of gangsters when their superior is found murdered. Power in this world is measured in masculinity, a currency dispensed within Grey Cardinal Studios’ version, where half of the roles are altered so as to be played by women. The female actors aren’t necessarily bad, but the themes of male competition and latent homoeroticism are rendered pointless by regendered characters. When a male character accuses a female one of mimicking his dress sense, the significance is lost entirely. The script owes obvious debts to Pinter, Mamet and even Tarantino, but this performance seems at times like an A-level rendition of Reservoir Dogs.

The staging and proxemics aren’t great either. The actors spend much of the play seated, and when they do stand, they seem unsure how to hold themselves. There is a gratuitous and clumsy scene change around the halfway mark which only serves to break up the action, while the denouement provides one of the most unintentionally funny death scenes you could hope to see on stage. 

Amongst a cast prone to self-conscious overacting, there are redeeming features. Evan Barker and Charles Hollingworth at least understand their characters, and Hollingworth carries a quiet power playing Mickey, moving between dogmatic loyalty and ruthless authority. Barker, a standout, is charismatic and menacing as the psychotic Baby: every time he leaves the stage, you find yourself waiting for him to reappear. He is lucky to be gifted the most complex role, but still turns a murderous abuse victim into a layered, subtle characterisation. 

There are some nice touches to this production, and a scene where a request for cake turns into a verbal Mexican standoff is a particular highlight. However, for the most part, it is overlong and underpowered, with uninspired staging and a cast that, though clearly full of potential, could certainly do better.

 

Mojo is on at theSpace on North Bridge – Perth Theatre

At 22:10 until 24th August

Tickets here

 

Image: Conor Hilton

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