Mojo Preview – ‘gloriously worded script but male dominated’

Cesca Echlin finds this rendition of Jez Butterworth's play hits comic targets, but also reflects on its male-dominated narrative.

Source: Playing Dumb Productions

Jez Butterworth’s play Mojo first opened in 1995 at the Royal Court in London. Set in Soho in 1958, at the heart of London’s club culture, the plot follows Ezra Atlantic Club’s dispute with competing Camden clubs over rising star ‘Silver Johnny’ (Stevie Polywka) and its catastrophic consequences.

Playing Dumb Productions are bringing Mojo to the BT this week with dynamism and flair. In this preview, I watch from the start of the play and it opens with real oomph. The addition of a live drum set (played by Josh Jones) on stage sets scenes with urgency and proves valuable for later transitions. In my mind there is nothing worse than a rickety scene change, and the ongoing beat of the drums keeps the energy going from one scene to the next.

Director Louis Beer has set the BT in traverse for this production. As such, the actors are forced to work hard, moving consistently as to vary the audience’s sight lines. This was achieved particularly well in the first scene – a duologue between nightclub employees Potts (Harold Serero) and Sweets (Henry Wyard). The two form a hilarious comic duo as they chat, at times anxiously and at times delightedly, about the club they work at. Butterworth’s writing shines here, with some great lines – Sweets is mortified when he hears that star Silver Johnny has been seen without his signature silver jacket, but Potts declares it ‘a jacket-off atmosphere.’ Butterworth’s most successful comic writing thrives off of pedantry and word play such as this. These two characterisations work well together; with Serero’s self-important Potts counteracting Wyard’s blissfully dim Sweets. Both have developed particularly sophisticated physicalities, and the addition of physical tics reveal the drug-fuelled dark side to London’s club culture.

Like in so many of his other plays, Butterworth’s luxuriously worded comic scenes counteract a much darker plot line. This is partially revealed in the preview by way of nightclub senior manager Mickey’s (Dom Weatherby) entrance. He brings with him catastrophic news affecting the state of the nightclub. As such, I left the preview edging to know what happens next.

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Butterworth’s plays prove a great opportunity for students, the sophistication and layered nature of its writing allowing one to bring out particular details. This Playing Dumb Productions has certainly done with consideration. One thing I think is important to discuss – the male-dominated nature of this play is palpable. The six characters in this production are originally male, with Amelia Holt being cast gender-blind as Baby. Jerusalem, Butterworth’s most famous play, is similar in this regard. Whilst I think it is true to say that Butterworth is fascinated specifically by the nature of masculinity, and perhaps, this is thinking optimistically, even the consequences of an absence of women, I think it is important we continue to reflect in this way. Perhaps I would have encouraged more actors to be cast in a gender-blind way.

What Playing Dumb Productions has created is a popping and witty rendition of gloriously worded script. Comedy done well can be a real treat and, as such, I encourage you to go and see this, running at the Burton-Taylor Studio until Saturday.