Mini-review – Mojo – Harold Pinter Theater (formerly the Comedy)

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Mojo, also known as “that all-male comedy starring Ben Wishaw,” seems to have been doing a bumper business at the Harold Pinter since its opening in November – helped, no doubt, by a few people like RevStan, who’s been to see it at least five times. (This is made possible by the day seating program and its £10 tickets.) I, however, have no stomach for standing in the cold (and wet) for two hours to see a show; and the ticket prices were otherwise just too rich for me. This left me feeling pretty frustrated as I kept hearing good things about it; I mean, what if they were right? I was going to miss out!

Fortunately my whimpers of distress were noticed by a person I will euphemistically refer to as “Santa Claus,” who bought me tickets for an evening in January. So there I was on a Friday night, in the dress circle (actually in very nice seats), ready to have my world rocked (and looking suspiciously around for Harry Potter fans. I’m pleased to report Rupert Grint may be allowed to actually develop as an actor rather than being penalized by his fan base).

I don’t know, I kind of wonder now why I went. I’d really avoided reading much about the plot, and was pretty surprised when nearly the entire first act consisted of two guys talking so quickly and in such weird, slangy English that I really could not follow their conversation. The audience was laughing, though, not that I knew why. Instead, I was sitting there, watching, trying really hard to hear, and wondering, what, exactly, is going on here? They’re at a club? There’s a young blond Elvis performing? They are taking drugs? Lots of drugs? They might be playing cards? Something about serving tea? Um, minge joke, okay, that was a little bit funny, but … um, what?

And then we suddenly wind up in a scene where some guy is tied to a jukebox (nearly) naked while some other guy is swinging a sword around and then another guy comes in and is all grim, and, I don’t know, WHY WAS ANYTHING FUNNY? I was finding it tense and uncomfortable and I might have considered leaving because I really was just not following along. And then it seemed to become more of a mobbish/revenge kind of thing but, really, I would have preferred being back at The Dumb Waiter, where people said less but meant more.

I left the play without ever figuring out what happened in the first act. But sometime in the second act I realized that all of the characters worked at a nightclub in Soho that had apparently become the target for some kind of gangland takeover. The focus of events turned to Mickey (Brendan Coyle), the standout single competent employee in the club, and Baby (Ben Wishaw), the son of the club owner and massive head case.

So … let’s talk about Wishaw. In some ways, this was really a star turn, as watching him prowl/stagger/swagger across the stage, you could help but feel he was in a different world from the other characters. But the you couldn’t help but try to figure out what world it is. I hate to think that I’ve been living here so long that I too have become obsessed with actors’ accents (though it’s hard not to when every time I see a play with British actors playing Americans I get asked if the accents were authentic or not). I couldn’t tell if I was watching an English actor attempting to do a Brooklynese accent badly, or if I was watching an Italian-English character attempting to do an American gangster-type accent badly. It just all didn’t make sense. And, for once in my life, because the way a character was speaking in a play didn’t make sense, I wasn’t able to give him any kind of context that could make him come to life. I was just watching a person act – dramatically, mind you – but I wasn’t engrossed in the play.

Now let’s not be mistaken: the tragic, violent turn things took in the final act certainly made me sit up and pay attention (especially as I thought it might have all been a dream of Baby) and really just upended my whole perception that I was watching a comedy. I’m not sure how the rest of the audience took it (aside from the walkouts) but I wound up feeling quite discombobulated and a whole lot more convinced that I’d actually seen some good theater because what happened in the final act made clear the relationships between the various men in a way that I could feel. But I can’t forgive this play the first act. Worth seeing: well, probably; worth two hours: maybe; worth 60 quid: absolutely not. Twenty pounds max: day seats or nothing. Unless, of course, you somehow are able to cobble something together out of the first act.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 24, 2014. Runs through February 8th.)

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