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Print Version

by Jez Butterworth
Director: Jeff Szusterman

at The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
From 27 Oct 2010 to 6 Nov 2010

Reviewed by Adey Ramsel, 29 Oct 2010

First and foremost design is kingpin in this gangster-filled, amphetamine-fuelled caper. Set in the London of rock and roll, drugs, guns, hard liquor, gangs and nightclubs, Mojo depicts the kind of cuddly gangster we can laugh at. But in, around, under and on top of all the hard-working cast do, the set and the simple but very workable lighting are the stars of the show. 

Top marks to designer Simon Coleman for allowing us to sit in on the action and surrounding us with an ambience so crucial to the script. The initial setting of the nightclub office is a marvel in seediness and grotty dampness. The second act set is just as impressive, realistic, and yet simple in its creation and the set change between the two is the best I have experienced in ages. It would not give any plot away to explain but I'll leave it as an authentic surprise for when you go. 

And go you should. Fast-paced, witty, quick-fire dialogue snaps along at a bullet's pace and the brilliant ensemble cast do wonders to remember huge amounts of sparring script which director Jeff Szusterman has done well to keep a tight rein on.  

The plot is simple in its presentation yet intricate in personality. Nightclub owner Ezra has been found dead, sawn in half and dumped outside his own club in two deceptively small dustbins. The culprit is rival local gangster Sam Ross and the argument between them is ownership of the new kid on the block, rock and roll star Silver Johnny. But here we are presented with a Rosencrantz and Guildernstern scenario, where the main players are off stage and we are left with the hoodlums, the ‘not-so-bright' but dangerous sidekicks; and it is here where personalities light up the stage as in turns they decide, protect and argue their future. 

Stars of the night Sam Sneddon and David Van Horn, as Skinny and Sweets respectively, make full use of the best dialogue and wait for the audience to come to them rather than push for laughs or milk their character traits. 

Charlie McDermott as Potts gives a nicely rounded performance as the henchman with ideas above his station, his bark much worse than his never revealed bite. His opening duologue with Van Horn is well-delivered, smart and concise. This is one young actor deservedly carving a name for himself.

Ian Hughes portrays a nice foil to the young bravados as second-in-command Mickey, the only one of the group with a seemingly sensible head on him. But waters run deep here and it would be nice to see the youngsters pay him a bit more respect and reverence in terms of body language. 

Gareth Reeves, as psychotic Baby, flips between bullyboy thug and ‘one of the boys' though credit to Reeves that there is something about the guy that not only unnerves the other characters but also makes us keep an eye on him throughout. That the only real violence on stage is carried out through Baby is no surprise and the ease in which it is achieved is sinister in its completion.

Dan Veint as youngster Silver Johnny does what he can with a cameo role and adds a touch of innocence to the proceedings. 

Decorated with light comic business – involving milk, cake and toffee apples – and dotted with red herrings and clues, the script contains twists and turns that could benefit from a second visit, if only to catch some of the more rushed London colloquialisms. Incidentally there is an occasional sense that maybe the cast have failed to catch the true meaning of the odd one and rely instead on its colourful and witty delivery, but this is me nit-picking.  

Swear words of the harsher kind pepper the night and my favourite line is not one I can repeat here but – voiced by Skinny and referring to Baby's Mother – it got a huge laugh. 

Director Jeff Szusterman, and producers Beth Allen and Charlie McDermott, should consider this production a job well done; all in all, small theatre at its best, a theatrical treat and not a weak link. 
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See also reviews by:
 Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);