This Mojo works good

Theatre

JEZ BUTTERWORTH's Mojo arrived at the Royal Court to the sound of drums and trumpets: the fastest acceptance of an uncommissioned work in living memory, the first main-stage debut since John Osborne's, the cool-dude twentysomething author a winner of the George Devine Award ... what could live up to all that?

Bam! To deafening rock, a sequinned Elvis-figure hip-swivels in strobe lights until, with the music still pounding, the stage goes black. Then - sudden silence, bright light, and two spivs in sharp suits perched on stools. A coup de theatre, carried out with whip-cracking precision. OK, Jez, you've made your entrance, now what about the play?

The spivs begin to talk. Very fast, through clenched teeth, in a curious home-made rhyming slang, late Eighties grafted onto late Fifties, Stepney on the make in Soho. The quick-fire patter throws out jokes like confetti, but they're only half-formed - no time to linger. Whether I'm laughing at the lines, or the manner in which they are delivered, I'm not sure - I'm bemused. No matter: since this theatre's admirable programme includes the script of the play, rather than the usual West End guff, one can always check later.

The scene is a Dean Street nightclub, and there's a spot of bother. Something has happened to the owner, and a rival gang is moving in on the turf. The owner's son and the small-time hoods who run the joint aren't sure what's happened, or what to do. When the owner makes his entrance in two separate dustbins, violence breaks out all over.

Welcome to the authentic world of the Krays, though convulsively foul- mouthed in the manner of their present-day successors. And of Reservoir Dogs, with which Butterworth's play has a lot in common, from the spivvy suits to the cleverly-choreographed business with guns and knives. But while one senses Tarantino grinning like a cruel child at the fantasies he's un- leashed, Butterworth seems genuinely curious about the druggy characters he has created.

Apart from the Elvis figure - whose main job is to hang upside down and get kicked from time to time - all the parts in this play are rich with interest and, under Ian Rickson's direction, acted with superb accomplishment. In the central role as the owner's baby-faced son, Tom Hollander brings out his character's strange mix: one minute discoursing on the beauties of the countryside, the next minute shooting a man who irritates him. This pint-sized virtuoso has an absolutely Protean talent: he was the winsome Celia in Cheek by Jowl's all-male As You Like It, and the satanic Macheath in the Donmar Threepenny Opera. His performance here suggests the compulsive sadism of a once battered child. Mojo isn't perfect, but it's a nudgingly clever piece, and by a mile the sharpest show in town. But it's still a romp for the boys. Can Butterworth create a female character? We wait with interest.

Harder questions are raised by Michael Frayn's new comedy at the Hampstead Theatre. Now You Know takes place in the offices of an open-government pressure group, headed by one of those mavericks such organisations throw up, a congenital but charismatic misfit played by Adam Faith. Frayn has successfully visited office-territory before - with Alphabetical Order, which opened in this same theatre exactly 20 years ago - and he confidently delineates a world of cosiness and claustrophobia, where raiding a pack of biscuits or misplacing a wire coat-hanger become capital offences.

Things are galvanised by the arrival of a beautiful young civil-service defector, armed with a secret report. The report is political dynamite; in her effect on the office, the woman (played by the statuesque Louise Lombard) is a human time-bomb. By the end of the first act, Frayn has wound up his characters like a watchmaker, and mined their paths with devilish care.

Then he blows it. The second act is clumsy, shapeless, and goes off at odd tangents, as though Frayn is desperately evading the consequences of the conflicts he's set up. Every so often the action is held up by a consciously literary tirade, betraying the play's parallel existence as a novel. At the climax, the central character transmogrifies into someone else, turning on his staff - black, handicapped, or girly female, every one a crude stereotype - with sudden and incom- prehensible venom. Done without a trace of distancing irony, this is embarrassing to watch.

The rumpled Faith makes an improbable lady-killer, and - is it him, or is it the writing? - there's something wonky and shifting about his tone. There are no weak links among the rest of the cast who, under Michael Blakemore's choreographic direction, attack their roles with comic zest. The heroine of the evening is Rosalind Ayres, playing the office harridan (and devoted slave) we've all met at some time or other, though never with such vivid poignancy.

The play's message about openness is banal, and it ends in a tangle of questions which a dramatist of Frayn's experience should have felt duty-bound to resolve. Why have things gone so wrong? Why didn't Blakemore - director of many Frayn plays, including his masterpiece, Noises Off - take matters in hand? We all want to see Frayn find his form once more. He had the humility to go on rewriting Noises Off many months into its West End run, until he finally got it right. With Now You Know - or rather, don't know - he has a bigger task. But there is a decent play here, struggling to get out.

Richard Harris's Dead Guilty starring Jenny Seagrove and Hayley Mills is the fruit of just such a process, having undergone drastic surgery and a name-change since its out-of-town birth two years ago. Seagrove plays the traumatised and house-bound survivor of a fatal car accident; Mills is the victim's fluttery widow who comes to visit. Spooky things happen, with echoes of Gaslight and Death Trap.

With this sort of play you feel challenged to write the second act in the interval: I wrote it, correctly, half way through the first. In a good thriller, audience and victim make their discoveries in tandem; there aren't enough twists in this plot. But under Auriol Smith's direction, this excellent cast (Niall Refoy outstanding as Seagrove's goofy helper) provides two engaging hours.

With this week's fourth new play - who said the theatre was on the rocks? - Jonathan Harvey looks set to repeat the success of his coming-out romance Beautiful Thing, which also premiered in the Shoebox at the Bush. Boom Bang-A-Bang, set in a Kentish Town flat, starts as a Eurovision Song Contest party and ends as something darker and more serious.

A copy of My Night With Reg sits among the gay-sex magazines on the coffee table and echoes of that grave comedy permeate the evening. The television's auto-destruction triggers a series of explosions which director Kathy Burke handles with consummate skill as secret loves and buried neurosis threaten to blow the place apart. The superb cast do full justice to their marvellously observed parts. Harvey's portrait of a gay subculture is abrasive, hilarious and tender; the ideal complement, in fact, to the ultra-butch Mojo.

'Mojo': Royal Court, SW1 (0171 730 1745), to 12 Aug. 'Now You Know': Hampstead, NW3 (0171 722 9301). 'Dead Guilty': Apollo, W1(0171 494 5070). 'Boom Bang-a-Bang': Bush, W6 (0181 743 3388), to 19 Aug.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?