Theatre-Rites’ Mojo is a fusion of live music from around the world with skilled and illuminating puppetry. What starts as a rhythm and beat-busting musical experience evolves into a simple narrative of a girl growing up from baby to teenager. This girl morphs from shapes and lines that float in the darkness, expertly manipulated by blacked-out puppeteers. A baby takes shape and moves about the darkness, floating lightly before playfully swinging from a pole. As Mojo progresses, we see this baby girl grow from manipulated shapes to steadily growing puppets, until the final moments where a stroppy teenager in a mini skirt and sunglasses floats about the Silk Theatre stage at The Barbican Centre.
Mojo is very much a piece about coming of age, presented in glorious techni-colour of the luminous variety, and an ever-changing melody of music from the skillful musician and performer Adriano Adewale. It’s a piece of family entertainment that happily bobs along, morphing from images and chereographed instances, to charming puppetry and song. Slightly surprising perhaps is the lack of spoken word throughout, aside from a few hinting lyrics that pepper the production with a flavour of what the young girl is feeling or experiencing. It’s a piece that drifts by, and the 80 minutes running time disappears before you know it.
Whilst Theatre-Rites have created a cacophony of images that the eye can feast upon there is a distinct quality that is missing from Mojo, one that I can’t help but fee that Sue Buckmaster’s production has kept from me: Fun. Mojo is a family piece that is meant to have you dancing in the aisles, whilst steadily being transfixed by the magical transformation on the stage. Yet Mojo seems a sober affair, and this is partly to do with how far removed the audience feels from the action. Either the Barbican’s Silk Street theatre is a too bigger space, or the puppetry and action are just too small. At the end the cast spill out into the auditorium and we can momentarily rejoice in the music and fun of the production, but it’s such a shame that it took nearly 70 minutes to do so and is so short lived.
There is however some magical moments and charming puppetry to be enjoyed throughout. The cast are playful and skilled, bringing out Arthur Pita’s chereography and Michael Fawkes puppetry wonderously. Adewale’s music with co-composer Leo Altarelli keeps the rhythm going through Mojo, and never ceases to bring delight from a new instrument. Whilst these elements work together well, the overall feeling of neglected fun from the production left me somewhat joyless when all I wanted was to really get into the spirit of the piece.
Theatre-Rites offers plenty of encouragement for a piece of visual theatre that will keep children amused, but it really lacks the tickling feeling that makes any child burst into giggles and spontaneous dancing. There are, however, some downright clever magic tricks that will make you “ooo” a little, even if your feet aren’t tapping at the end. Plenty of promise, and so nearly there… but just falls at the last moment. A slightly funless production.
Mojo is playing at The Silk Street Theatre at The Barbican Centre until 31 December. For more information and to book tickets, see The Barbican Theatre’s website.