Phil’s first trip to the theatre since his return from what he likes to call the Orient.
Always one to worry about the potential hazards of exotic travel, he hadn’t researched things enough to discover there would be dangerous centipedes or bees, let alone that his chief destination would be positioned perilously on on the Ring of Fire. It was here he experienced his first earthquake, which arrived with a star rating of 6.6 apparently, though some critics downgraded it to 6.3, but it was still enough to discombobulate him slightly, though not as much as the giant inflatable duck which, as a result, exploded in Taiwan’s Kaohsiung harbour.
But theatre gave Phil an excuse to catch up with Andrew and bore him with his experiences of the wobbles, both from his vertigo at the top of some of the world’s tallest buildings and seismic. “Did you see any theatre?” asked Andrew. When Phil explained that Phantom of the Opera was playing in Shanghai (his last stop on the trip) there seemed to be no need to expand on the conversation.
So, to the starry revival of Jez Butterworth‘s Mojo, which Phil first saw at the Royal Court in 1995 (also directed by Ian Rickson), a black comedy set in a seedy Soho club in the fifties. It opens with Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries), a promising singer (whose potential success is leading to power games amongst clubland gangsters) making a brief gyrating appearance before disappearing, leaving the poor actor hanging around until near the end of the play in two entirely different ways. To explain more would involve a SPOILER ALERT.
In between there’s a lot of sharply funny and rude banter, but in Act 1 there’s too much tell and little show and too much chat about characters we never get to meet. At the interval Phil had been enjoying the dialogue but was finding it hard to care much, leaving Andrew to hiss “I’m hating it”, proving you can never retire from Whingeing entirely. Tactfully Andrew persisted to the end – probably because Phil had queued for £10 front row day seats – eventually emerging to declare Act 2 as “much better”.
Ah, beware the front row as there’s an awful lot furniture rearranging in the form of aggressive chair throwing. An actor just caught one of them before it fell off the stage and landed on Phil. He hadn’t been this alarmed since his tectonic tremble and had a momentary flash of a law suit against the show’s producer Sonia Friedman. Then there was the Act 2 blood capsule which squirted dangerously close to our seats, offering potential to send a dry cleaning bill to Ms Friedman (plus damages for distress) had it landed on our (obviously upgraded to) cashmere slacks. It was not to be.
Anyhoo, it’s very well acted, Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, persuing the Radcliffe route, aquits himself admirably in his West End debut as a pill-supplying flunky, Daniel Mays is sweatily energetic and hilarious, Colin Morgan‘s twitchy Skinny does a brilliant job of shivering, though whenever a door on the side of the Act 2 set (design by Ultz) was open there was a remarkably cold draught in the front row, so perhaps this wasn’t acting after all, and Ben Wishaw is spectacularly and convincingly psychotic. Downton‘s Mr Bates, Brendan Coyle, provides a USP to attract older theatregoers to the play.
If it was hard to warm to the largely not-easy-to-like characters’ shenanigans initially; Act 2 is much more enjoyable where it’s less tell, more show and more of a show as a result.
Phil’s favourite moment was an illusion-shattering one. Two ‘very heavy’, plot-important dustbins had been convincingly dragged onto the stage by the cast, yet, during a not-quite-black-enough blackout, stagehands picked them up with ease and sauntered them off to the wings. Splendid stuff.