New London theatre company That Lot should be praised for their ambitious attempt at bringing to life Jez Butterworth’s revered Mojo in the tiny Hens & Chicken Theatre. Unfortunately, however, the troupe’s ambitions far outweigh the talent and craft on display in a largely safe and amateur-feeling version of Butterworth’s play.
Directed by Kara M. Tyler with Assistant Director Sebastian Zeballos, the show doesn’t seem that bothered in finding its own unique style or tone. Instead, it just rereads Mojo’s usual voice but obviously cannot match the execution levels of the West End version – making it feel very amateur, indeed.
This version lacks budget, obviously, so perhaps it would have been wiser to make their Mojo stylistically separate in order to offer something different. Sadly, that does not happen and That Lot’s Mojo loses all sense of mojo. Humour could, and should, have been mined a lot more in various different parts of the show – with many an opportunity for blackly comic humour to be derived from both the plot of the piece and Butterworth’s dialogue. The cast, and the director, take the safe route again, however, and seem to take everything a tad too seriously, as if they think they’re making Reservoir Dogs.
Some of the more blackly funny lines are devoid of humour with the cast reading them pretty straightforwardly, while the scenes where the panicking gangsters talk over one another could have been hilarious, but instead, result in a big incoherent mess where all lines are lost. Perhaps a braver, more stylistic director would have had more success here.
The comedic moments that do come are mainly from Thao Nguyen as Skinny, while Louis Cummings and Brad Leigh do a good job at the double act of Potts and Sweets, respectively – even if the former’s accent wavers every now and again. Edward Boak, curiously given top billing playing Silver Johnny, gets no chance to prove his talents at all, while Oliver Parnell proves he can play unstable but at times seems out of his depth, especially in comparison to the others.
Adam Bloom, however, as Mickey, is probably the best pick of the bunch. Resembling a young Jude Law, Bloom is the only one of the cast who doesn’t seem too young to be featuring in this play. That gives him a commanding, brooding presence on stage, while his piercing eyes give him an intensity that helps the character come to life. He sounds like he’s doing an impression of Bricktop from Snatch, which adds a bit of seniority to Mickey, who is the (sort of) leader of the group of gangsters. Still, Bloom could have dialled up the intensity a bit more to really make him a threatening presence – which would have made the final reveal, which played sloppy and under-cooked, all the more effecting.
Props should go to costume designer Charlotte Szczepanski for her detailed and period-appropriate costuming, with the detailing on Sweets’ shoes are particularly nice. The set design, meanwhile, does the job well, doing the most they could have with the resources they have and setting the scenes well.
While the execution of this play can’t match the ambition in putting it on, it’s a show that displays occasional signs of promise from a promising young theatre company. They just need to pick their shows a little better – or, perhaps, simply write their own.
Mojo played at the Hens & Chicken Theatre until 24 November.