Jez Butterworth

Mojo

19/08/19

theSpace on North Bridge, Edinburgh

Grey Cardinal Studios’ production of Mojo is well worth a look. These graduates (and students) of the East 15 Acting School have got a little gem on their hands.

Of course, Jez Butterworth’s script is a gift to any actor worth their salt, but that doesn’t make it an an easy choice. This hard-hitting tale of 1950s gangsters – reeling after their night-club owning boss is killed – requires real grit and, with its depiction of virulent masculinity, might seem out of step with our times. But that’s where Grey Cardinal Studios’ inventiveness steps in: here, Sweets (Ameleah Wilson), Skinny (Natalie Sproston) and Silver Johnny (Ceili Lang) are all played by women. Apart from the pronouns, they don’t change the script at all, and it works – adding an extra layer to the story, bringing it bang up to date. I’m particularly impressed to learn that this change was made with Butterworth’s approval, that the young company engaged with him and made sure he was on board.

The acting is uniformly strong, although Evan Barker (as Baby) stands out, clearly relishing his part, exuding a particularly menacing and capricious air. He’s genuinely scary, and Skinny’s fear of him seems all-too valid a response.

Director Ashley Mapley-Brittle clearly knows what she is doing; the staging is dynamic, the relationships and pecking order established by proxemics and body language as well as dialogue. It’s technical stuff, but it all looks natural and unforced. The pace, while never dropping, still allows the script to breathe, the actors weighting the words so that we can appreciate them. I’m not convinced the spangly backdrop, awkwardly manoeuvred from behind the curtains, is necessary, but even this potentially clumsy scene-change is nicely covered by Silver Johnny’s singing.

Grey Cardinal Studios’ two founders Lewis Macey (Potts) and Charles Hollingworth (Mickey) should be really proud of themselves. They’ve made something rather special happen here.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Black Mass

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25/11/15

Time was, when Johnny Depp’s name attached to a movie could be interpreted as a guarantee of quality, but to be fair, it’s been a while since that maxim held true. A once keen ability to pick the right project has lately foundered amidst a welter of vanity puff-pieces. So it’s heartening to report that Black Mass is a major step in the right direction, with Depp submitting his best performance in a very long time.

Here, he’s depicting real life  villain James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a career criminal who operated successfully around his home town of Boston over a period of thirty years, largely because his brother, Bobby, was a senator and his best friend, John Connolly,  an FBI agent. Bulger cannily formed an ‘alliance’ with Connolly, trading inside information on his rivals to ensure that he could operate his web of vice and murder with complete impunity.

Depp has worked hard to make himself look unattractive – complete with thinning hair, bad teeth and pale blue eyes, he’s hardly recognisable as his former self. Initial fears that this is simply going to be a ‘makeup led’ performance are soon quashed, as he submits a convincing turn as a repellent psychopath, a man who can skip from helping an old lady with her shopping, to shooting a man point blank in the face, without raising so much as an eyebrow.

There’s a lot of unflinching violence on show here, but its matched by a sharp script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth and there’s the added bonus of a supporting cast to die for – Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sargaard… Seriously, there’s enough talent on show here to fill several movies; but there’s no denying that this is Depp’s film and he has a field day with it.

Like many real life stories, if presented as a piece of fiction, this would seem unlikely. Stay in your seat for the closing credits which offer glimpses of the real protagonists and we’re finally able to fully appreciate the lengths to which director Scott Cooper has gone to ensure that his actors resemble the major players.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

 

Mojo

mojo

12/08/14

C Venue 34, Edinburgh

Set in 1950’s London, Mojo is Jez Butterworth’s Olivier Award winning play located in The Atlantic Club,  where pop singer Silver Johnny appears to be on the verge of the big time and the club’s various workers wheel and deal with each other, hoping for a slice of the action. But when the club’s owner, Ezra turns up dead in two separate dustbins, paranoia descends…

It’s a brilliant play – swaggering, macho, loaded with canny period detail and a homoerotic subtext – you have to remember that in the 1950’s, homosexuality was something that had to be kept clandestine. Mojo inhabits the kind of territory that Harold Pinter made his own back in the day and Butterworth excels at finding the dark humour in a brutal and unforgiving world. This is an amateur production, by the oddly named company My Son Tristan, but the actors rise to the challenge and submit excellent performances.

It’s hard to single out one player in particular, but Cody Maltby as the pill-popping Sweets, gets most of the funny lines and has a field day with them. The real tragedy is that on the night we visited, the production had attracted a crowd of just sixteen people and with hindsight, a more intimate venue would have been more appropriate. But we’ve seen packed venues presenting less assured performances and poorer material than is on offer here, so catch this before it’s gone. There’s plenty to admire.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney