Left – Josh McConville. Cover – Tony Martin and Eamon Farren. Photos – Brett Boardman
It’s dripping with retro chic in every way possible. Sydney Theatre Company’s latest Wharf 1 offering has rockabilly, hipster fanfare written all over it: the promise of a 1950s rock and roll tunes, a dark gritty drug-fuelled underbelly-style time capsule. An edgy, adrenalin filled feast for those hooked on the heavy thud of booted bovver boys, or so the Artistic Director’s note and the Director’s note suggest.
However Jez Butterworth’s Mojo is not delicately laced with the quaint tinge of nostalgia that retro acts of art can bring a contemporary audience, but drenched in design and nearly pulled under in the near two decades of gang/drug/thriller genre-content offered since its premiere in 1995.
The premise hangs on the fate of a single character “Silver Johnny” and the den of corruption and desperation that seeks to control his unstoppable talent. In the wake of real-life pop-star scandal (Justin Beiber, One Direction, Elvis Presley) and the subsequent spread of film, TV and gaming media geared to the underbelly or ganglands of other places/other times. This is a fairly familiar tale, told by Butterworth in a fairly unsurprising manner.
Though dutifully and deftly delivered by a very capable cast – Jeremy Davidson, Eamon Farren, John McConville, Lindsay Farris, Ben O’Toole, Tony Martin – and underscored by the musical ruptures of Alon Ilsar and Paul Kilpinen – Mojo falls short of the explosive and effusive praise quoted in the program.
Iain Sinclair with an all-star team of Pip Runciman (Set Design), David Fleischer (costume design), Nicholas Rayment (Lighting design) and Steve Francis (Sound Design) has produced a handsome and technically coherent piece of stage work. But the play’s the thing. And Mojo failed to inspire or intrigue.
Running at two hours and thirty minutes, including interval, it runs for about as long as Quentin Tarrantino’s Pulp Fiction’s theatrical release (which was released a year earlier in 1994) without much of the glamour, humour, quirk, craft or curiousness. The story unwinds in a simple and unambiguous, linear fashion collecting moments of individual revelation from each character. The affect is an inordinate amount of steaming, stamping, brotherly drug taking, sexually ambiguous threats, some stale cake, some powerful guitar and a couple of bloodied garbage bins.
To what end? Is this a portrait of another time – to be regarded with the reverence of ages past? Is this an attempt to show the downfall of drug taking? Or the downfall of joining a gang or a band? Is this proof that men are essentially self destructive? Is this story to show the latent power of the next generation? And what do we learn?
It appears that the retro chic design of this production, fails to elevate the play above the resulting onslaught of like-genre parables of boys behaving badly.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
by Jez Butterworth
Director Iain Sinclair
Venue: Wharf 1 | The Wharf, Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: 17 May – 5 July 2014
Tickets: $50 – $99
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 | sydneytheatre.com.au