Arts Reviews

”Had The Audience Laughing One Minute And Gasping The Next” – Theatre Review: Mojo @ NNT

Hannah Bentley

Hannah Bentley reviews Daisy Norton’s and James Fellas-Laurie’s adaptation of MOJO by Jez Butterworth – a fun and lively production of a dark-humoured play that explores the toxic power dynamics and gangster culture of the Atlantic Club in 1950s London, with unpredictable plot twists.

Before the performance had even begun, the scene was set in the foyer of the Nottingham New Theatre. As soon as I stepped into the foyer, I was transported to the 50s with a two-piece band playing slow jazz. Audience members were relaxed, standing around chatting with cocktails in hand – some even started to slow dance under the ambient lighting. I really felt like I was waiting to be let into the Atlantic Club.

The play started off strong with an incredibly talented band consisting of James Marsh (bass guitar), Demi Idowu (drums), Alfie Preece (keyboard) and Joe Zuccala (guitar). They played some 1950s hit songs accompanied by the energetic vocals of Isaac Pengelley, who played Silver Johnny. Pengelley had great stage presence; the audience reacted to his infectious energy with clapping and cheering. An extended comedic duologue between Potts (Lucy House) and Sweets (Freya Davis) followed this first scene.

This pair entered the stage with such a dynamic force. Their sarcastic comedy and nervous, erratic energy made the characterisations of their roles very convincing. These two were truly the stand-outs of the production. It was clear they had great chemistry and developed a good relationship with the audience through their performance, playing off our laughter and giving us comical looks when reacting to the drama on stage.

their physical comedy and commitment to character even when not at the centre of the scene was unmatched

However, the play continued as a strange study of the characters and explored the tense, strained relationship of Mickey and Baby (played by Caetano Capurro and Barney Hartwill respectively). I felt a few characters lacked some depth when compared to the very convincing relationship of Sweets and Potts, which meant I wasn’t fully invested in the more emotional scenes.

At times I felt some of the references were lost on the young audience. I think for this reason some actors were over-reliant on emphasising the swear words in some of their lines in order to get a laugh. But this didn’t take away from the intended comedic effects, which is especially true for House and Davis. Their physical comedy and commitment to character even when not at the centre of the scene was unmatched. Despite their characters being morally corrupt and struggling with drug issues, I couldn’t help but be endeared by the fast paced, quick-witted duo.

Emi Thackery as sound designer did a great job. The specific timing of the gunshot was perfect and achieved its aim of making the audience jump. Atmospheric tracks such as quiet jazz music also played over some scenes, and murmuring crowds complimented the mood nicely.

It was clear that the actors and band were having fun on stage

The set design (by Amandeep Bhamra and Fellas-Laurie) was simple but effective, with vinyl records placed on the flats and beer bottles dotted around to indicate the setting of a club. The costumes, designed by Sophie Weir, were also simple and communicated the time period and setting well. But on further reflection, costume could have been used to add more style and flair to the production. For example, the band could have been dressed in embellished shirts and bright colours to compliment Silver Johnny’s sequin outfit and the enthusiastic energy they brought to the production. Although I’m aware that budgetary constraints may not have allowed for this.

Overall, Norton and Fellas-Laurie’s take on this dark comedy had the audience laughing one minute and gasping the next. It was clear that the actors and band were having fun on stage, which made for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Hannah Bentley

Featured image courtesy of The Nottingham New Theatre via Facebook. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @mojo.nnt via No changes were made to these images.

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