STC’S ‘MOJO’

Mojo (def): charm or spell cast, sex appeal.

STC’s ‘Mojo’ has little evidence of any of it.

To be fair, I saw it in previews and Sam Haft had pulled out of the play only five days before, in the first night of the technical run and Lindsay Farris had stepped in to play the role of Baby. So I strongly suspect it had some realigning to do, as well as normal preview bumps in rhythm.

But when I saw it, ’Mojo’ was devoid of much of its tension. ‘Mojo’ is set around the late 50’s in seedy London, teddy boys, tough talk, rock and roll and an underworld of gangsters caught up with a hope of youthful advancement any way you can get it. It is distinctly masculine and violent. ‘Mojo’ has all the ingredients for tension but the cake is yet to cook. Director Iain Sinclair has certainly pumped Jez Butterworth’s play full of energy and each actor seemed to be giving it all they had (and there’s no denying there’s some fine acting happening on stage- Josh McConville as Potts and Eamon Farren as Skinny in particular) but much like STC’s ‘Edward Gant’ from a couple of years back, it’s not coming together to transfer it into tangible engagement for the audience.

So I was left asking, why was there no tension? What is it about this production of Butterworth’s ‘Mojo’ that left me thinking ‘No Go’? Butterworth’s play is a precision in delivery of language, often compared with the rising tension of dialogue from writers like Pinter, who was undeniably an influence on the writer. Has the timing in Sinclair’s show been miscalculated? It fires the opening dialogue like a bull out of the gate and so there is a bit of catch up happening in the audience, post Silver Johnny’s assaulting rock performance and that pace rarely changes. Pip Runciman’s set design and David Fleischer’s costumes leave me no doubt that this is era specific and this dingy back club room holds a promise of ambition and deals are in motion. So I’m certainly aware of context and its driving narrative and floating ideas. I’m just not invested in it.

I think part of the issue of the play is its toughest character, Tony Martin (Mickey) is not intimidating enough and fails to seduce the other characters effectively. I don’t feel threatened by the unfolding events and thus I don’t believe the power he has over the other characters to decide their fate. I’m not convinced by whatever relationship he has with Skinny (Farren) that mirrors the departed Ezra and his son Baby (Farris) and so the ending feels problematic and I’m unaffected by Mickey’s response to Skinny’s dilemma. I don’t feel threatened by the possibility of Sam Ross taking over the club scene and nor do I believe the fear expressed by the others on stage for the possibility of their fate.

If this play is a black comedy, it hasn’t hit its mark because the tilt has gone off course.  Perhaps part of the issue is that a play set in the London underground night club scene of the late 50’s feels dated in this production, which is striving for authenticity to its middle-class Australian audience (or maybe just me). I couldn’t connect with it culturally, socially or historically and therefore it felt irrelevant. It didn’t resonate with me and Sinclair’s production didn’t emerge from its original setting and speak to an audience of today.

In the end, I’m left with a play that has heart in its performances but no soul. I see people working for their money but not working for mine.

I hope it finds its feet and rhythm with this last minute ensemble change and I wish Haft a speedy recovery but ‘Mojo’ didn’t earn its ticket price when I saw it. 

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10 comments

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Anonymous May 27, 2014 at 8:25 am

Are you seriously reviewing a play in a preview? you sir, are a twit.

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Anonymous May 28, 2014 at 4:44 am

well said Anonymous!

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jane May 29, 2014 at 7:46 am

Well, this raises an interesting point. If I'm charged a significant amount to watch the show in preview, is it open for review? I'm certainly honest about the fact that it was a preview performance and the issues that arose from it that might not be present later in the season but should I not publish a preview analysis? That's not a criticism- it's a genuine question. If you are paying the general public almost full price to see the show in preview, should it be off-limits to a blog/non-mainstream review?

I'd also be interested to hear from anyone who has seen it since it's actual opening and whether any of the issues I raised were relevant when they saw it.

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Anonymous May 29, 2014 at 10:30 am

It is one thing to be disappointed by a preview performance as a member of the public, it is another to take a position of authority, as bloggers implicitly do, publishing a review before the play has had a chance to be fully cooked. Particularly in what sounds like difficult circumstances. Better manners please.

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Anonymous June 2, 2014 at 2:24 am

This begs the question….why read a review on a site called "shit on your play"? Its obvious the reviewer is a dick. A nasty who is trying to whitewash their own lack of talent as a "review" I'm surprised anyone is following this self appointed and vain expert. Count how many times he/she/it says "I".

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jane June 2, 2014 at 4:57 am

It's funny. I'm actually okay with being called a nasty talentless dick but you're most upset because I break the convention of traditional reviewing by using personal pronouns?

Dear Anonymous, welcome to clutching at straws.

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Anonymous June 2, 2014 at 5:39 am

I saw Mojo in London in February with all star cast. I also had no connection with the characters and all the yelling and shouting. Mickey did not have sufficient clout in their version either (actor who plays Bates in Downton Abbey). I think it is a rather outdated piece. I had no connection with it whatsoever. Very disappointing. I don't know why STC has to do it here too. I saw it in its last week in London and it had plenty of applause. Ben Wishaw was good as Baby and Rupert Grint was not bad as Potts. I don't know why it has been revived.

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Anonymous June 2, 2014 at 7:14 am

To be fair… from reading other reviews, I see other reviewers (including those with 'freebies' were also at the preview. Presumably by invitation of the STC…

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Anonymous June 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm

I wouldn't want to be reviewed on a preview performance either, especially under these circumstances. However Anon(3 previous), I personally think more reviews should use the word 'I'. It is after all only one persons opinion. Haven't seen this one yet, but that's a great cast.

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