Mojo

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

With the super talented Jez Butterworth’s latest offering The Ferryman currently wowing audiences and critics on Broadway, it’s always worth paying a visit to some of his earlier work and the WonderIf production of Butterworth’s first play, Mojo.

Originally set in the 1950s seedy club scene of Soho, this version sees the action shift to the ecstasy-fuelled club scene of 1990’s Manchester.  Manchester at the time resembled a Western, as rival gangs battled for control of the doors and of course the drug scene, so this narrative shift works perfectly.

The first act opens at the Atlantic club and certainly belongsto Potts (Paul Jennings) and Sweets (Leigh Manning) as the pair muse about how the good times are coming back, especially with the potential success of Silver Johnny (Edrine Spencer), a local singer/dancer the boys helped to discover things are certainly on the up.

Later club skivvy Skinny (Oliver Baines) and Baby (Scott Harrison) join the party. Early doors we can see cracks in the relationship of these four, as Baby’s toxic masculinity oozes out of him especially as it relates to his treatment of Skinny.  However, the situation takes a more sinister turn with the arrival of the club manager Mickey (Miles Mooney) who informs the gang that club owner, and Baby’s father, Ezra has been murdered and is in the bins outside the club.

In addition,their golden goose Silver  Johnny is missing. The gang decide to lay low in the club to see how the situation plays out and defend their territory, but with tensions running high, personal vendettas, bruised egos, and certain group members manipulating the situation for their own gain, it’s pretty clear that not everything will end well for this dysfunctional quintet.

This is pitch black comedy that looks at the battle for supremacy and the pecking order of a group of wanna be tough guys: there is always a hierarchy in place. The script is packed with stinging dialogue and cutting one liners, with a plenty of dark humour to boot.

All six performers work well as an ensemble, demonstrating who their character is and just where they  fit into in the group’s structure, I do think some of the performances could be reined in a touch and played less for laughs as it loses sight of the more dramatic elements of the play. In addition, there are still references to the action taking place in London rather than it’s new setting of Manchester which did get a little confusing.

Overall this is an entertaining, engaging night at the theatre, with numerous twists and turns that will leave you guessing how it will end. In addition, the show has a killer soundtrack, featuring the likes of New Order, Joy Division and Happy Monday’s, that you really can’t go far wrong. This is a must for fans of the gangster genre, and anyone who likes their dialogue sharp and stinging, cutting straight to the bone!

Mojo is on at the Met Bar on the 21st and 22nd of July. Tickets available at here.

Interview | MOJO Cast

 

Newly formed Theatre Company WonderIfTheatre bring Jez Butterworth’s slick, black comedy MOJO to The Met, Bury this week as part of Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.

Director Jennie Fairclough shifts the action from SOHO to 1990’s Madchester, “I grew up in Madchester, ‘Sankey’s’ and ‘Academy’ flyers graced my walls and the Hacienda was at its peak of popularity, in many ways it was a rite of passage for my friends and me. But even as naive teenagers, we were always aware of a seedier side.”

Opening Night were lucky enough to chat to cast members Scott Harrison, Oliver Baines and Leigh Manning to hear a little more about their involvement in the production and what audiences can expect from the play.

Scott Harrison (SH) – Baby

Oliver Baines (OB) – Skinny

Leigh Manning (LM) – Sweets

 

Whats the story of Mojo and without giving too much away where does

your character sit in this piece?

OB: Mojo is a story about 6 men battling for power in the 90s clubs scene. Think

Hacienda and Acid house and you’re on the right track. Skinny is the runt who has very little going for him.

LM: I play Sweets, the ‘Bez’ of the group. He’s A joyous, energetic, ball of weird and

the sidekick to Potts played by Paul Jennings. The pair of them form a little Del Boy/

Rodney double act.

SH: My character, Baby, is the son of Ezra who is the owner of the Atlantic club where the play is set. By rights, Baby believes he should be next in line for top position. However, his wild and erratic nature unnerves the other characters who, instead, initially see Mickey as Ezra’s next in line. Baby is a complex character with many layers and is a joy to play!

 

What’s your biggest challenge for this piece?

OB: My biggest challenge for this piece, and I’m sure others may agree with me, is the pace and keeping up the energy of the script because I’ve never performed something so fast in my life.

SH: Definitely the challenge is nailing the tempo rhythms.

LM: Learning Jez Butterworth’s machine gun dialogue is one challenge but then

delivering it at a razor sharp pace is a complete other.

 

Have you taken part in Greater Manchester Fringe before?

LM: I was part of the GM fringe back when I co-starred and coproduced an original

comedy called ALL OR PEANUTS back in 2015. The fringe is so accessible and

welcoming, bringing together an array of talent from diverse backgrounds – it’s a

pleasure to be a part of it again.

SH: This is my first time taking part in a piece for Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. It’s been brilliant getting to know other creatives taking part in the fringe and to see such a united support of Fringe theatre throughout the Greater Manchester region.

 

Tell us about your acting career thus far…

OB: I’m relatively new to acting and performance in general to be honest, only starting once I joined college 2 years ago, and have worked on a variety of college

productions since then. That’s when our director Jennie approached me about Mojo I

couldn’t believe it and I am very excited to be a part of it.

LM: I started acting, like many, at a young age after being encouraged by my

teachers. I was lucky enough to be accepted to be apart of the Royal Exchanges young company in its first year of forming and had amazing opportunities with the theatre including performing professionally in the main theatre as part of the Christmas production directed by Melly Still. After leaving college, I began working full time as an actor, performing in productions such as Kes, Punk Rock and A Midsummer Nights Dream at some of the best north west theatres. I have also self-produced pieces of original independent theatre for fringe venues in Manchester and Liverpool

SH: I studied at East 15 Acting School on a one year foundation course and then went to LIPA in Liverpool to study on the 3 year Acting course there. Following graduation, I did a summer tour of a new play called ‘You Boy’ by Joshua Meredith. I’m really

excited about doing ‘MOJO’ this July. It’s a great bunch of people i’m working with

and the material is fantastic to play with.

 

In a world where there is so much theatre on offer, what specifically do

you think is the pull for audiences to go see Mojo?

LM: There’s nothing more Mancunian than this production in the fringe. It’s got it all;

an iconic soundtrack, a slick cast and its proper funny! If you lived through the 90s or

want a taste of what it was like, then MOJO is the ticket you need to get.

OB: Our Mojo brings a fresh wave of banter and hilarity to the stage. In recent times in theatre and on TV a lot of time is spent on dark and heavy subject matter that’s

uncomfortable to watch and that’s all well and good but I think Mojo cuts through the

middle of all that giving an audience something to really get invested in and laugh their bums off at.

SH: I feel that WonderIf’s re-setting of ‘MOJO’ in early 90s Manchester will resonate

with and appeal to a lot of people around Greater Manchester who can remember

that era for its music and vibrancy. Moreover, I think Jez Butterworth’s skilled crafting

of a play with so much high level suspense would grip an audience from start to finish.

 📷 Paul Wright

MOJO plays at The Met, Bury on July 17th, 21st and 22nd.

Tickets available here.

@WonderIfTheatre

Blackpool – What a Shit Place to Die

Three Minute Theatre, Manchester – Fri 20 July 2018

Starring Mark Newsome

Writer – Phil Pearson

Director – Grace Cordell

Reviewed by Eric Potts

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

At only fifty minutes long with no interval this is a real emotional roller-coaster.  We follow the mental descent of Billy Costello – a young, gay, depressed, autistic actor with a drug problem during what could prove to be his last few days on the planet…in Blackpool.

Oldham based actor Mark Newsome portrays Billy with truth, integrity, clarity and a real passion.  Although a one-man play, Newsome delivers duologues within the text as Billy encounters both random strangers and problematic family.  He does this with aplomb, the audience quickly buying into the theatrical device and enjoying the well-scripted content.

Writer, Phil Pearson has delivered a tight and fast-moving script, which Newsome delivers with apparent ease.  Costello’s downward spiral towards attempted suicide is, as you would expect, emotionally charged but deliciously peppered with acidic one-liners and asides that allow the audience to laugh through the tears and create a real empathy with the main character and his demons within.

The main thrust of Costello’s mental anguish would appear to be both his and his family’s struggle with his sexuality.  His other issues, drug-use and autism are featured secondarily within the play by means of some clever writing which came across as half-rap, half incantation.  It worked well.

A few minor directorial tweaks would solve some positioning issues and allow better use of the cleverly conceived projection sequences within the narrative, which should be expanded in any future production to augment the staging.  That said, director Grace Cordell has done a very good job and presented an almost full house with both a production and a performer that should go much further in the future.

White is the new Black

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Last seen at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in the hilarious self-penned ‘The Community Centre’ Nicola Gardner returns to Manchester with fellow actress Jennifer Banks to deliver two very different yet hugely poignant plays, in the double bill, White is the new Black.

Piece one, The Last Appointment, written by Nicola as a commission for Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre sees black middle class GP Jo (Nicola Gardner) confronted by white Black Lives Matter activist Aretha (Jennifer Banks) who arrives at her surgery for the last appointment of the day. Things quickly become heated and increasingly personal as Aretha struggles to understand why Jo would not want to protest and take up the front line at rallies like Aretha, she tells her to “Get with the programme” and challenges Jo’s position of privilege, aghast that being the only black girl in her school didn’t leave her traumatised and angry at the injustice Aretha feels Jo faced. Whereas Jo wants to forget the struggles and the strife and aspires to succeed, holding people like the Obamas in high esteem and admiring their achievements in life, she wants to look forward not back.

There are some highly entertaining moments delivered beautifully by both actresses, Aretha strives to make Jo believe she too has lived a persecuted life due to being a Scouser, she knows how it feels to be targeted and treated badly, resulting in dramatic and hilarious eye rolls from Jo. Aretha challenges Jo’s attitude just as much as Jo challenges Aretha’s motives, ultimately boiling down to that fact that both just want what they feel is right and is fair despite going about things in dramatically different ways, both ladies show how ultimately despite our choices and actions we aren’t so very different after all.

Piece two in contrast to The Last Appointment reverses the roles of our two actresses, in Florence – The Fight of her Life written by Maurice Bessman, we meet African asylum seeker Florence (Nicola Gardner) as she comes face to face with seemingly cold-hearted Immigration Officer Mrs Lewis (Jennifer Banks). Florence is literally pleading for her life during the cold and demeaning immigration test as Mrs Lewis digs for detail despite the deeply upsetting and heartbreakingly sad reality of the life Florence has escaped from, boxes are ticked and devastating accounts disregarded as Florence fails to provide hard, factual evidence of the stories that she tells. The immigration office want physical proof explains Mrs Lewis and without that she must simply press on and get her job done, detaching herself from the emotion of the story, she simply sees herself as a woman just doing a job. The coldness and reality of the test is hard-hitting and sensitively delivered by both actresses, our characters have a task to complete and both are driven by achieving the best outcome, for Florence it is a life-changing and potentially devastating outcome should she be refused, for Mrs Lewis it’s just another work-placed task that she needs to complete efficiently. Florence has to relive painful and devastating memories, which are cruelly brushed away by Mrs Lewis due to not being documented anywhere as proof they ever happened.

While the two pieces are very different, they both ultimately highlight the same themes, despite colour and differences in race, we are essentially all one, we share so much in life that ties us together and bonds us, we love, we live and we all strive to succeed. While we may differ in our attitudes, choices and approaches, there are many more similarities that draw us together. The two plays both powerfully demonstrate how deep down we really are one, our diversities should be embraced and celebrated as the melting pot we come together in grows in richness and diversity. Emotive, powerful, and beautifully delivered theatre, highly recommended.

White is the new Black has one final performance tonight at the Anthony Burgees Foundation, tickets available here; http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk

 

The Loves of Others


We’ve all been there, that awkward moment when you witness a couple have blazing row, it could be  friends of yours, or complete strangers, I once saw a couple verbally massacre each other in the snacks and nibbles isle at Tesco  the night before Christmas Eve, it was embarrassing, crass, but most of all entertaining. Well imagine that multiplied by three and the genesis of the latest offering from play write Alex Keelan, The Loves of Others.

Set during two separate dinner parties held a year apart, we are treated to an insight in the lives of 3 couple’s lives: we have the host and hostess of the party Max (Dan Jefferies) Leanne (Alexandra Maxwell), he’s a boozy hangover from the ‘Loaded’ generation, and she’s Hyacinth Bucket only on Facebook. There are Tina (Amy Forrest) and her partner Dave (William J Holstead), she has a few confidence issues, and he’s a bit laid back to deal with them. Finally there is Vic (Alice Proctor) and Ike (Kyle Walker), she’s strong willed and feisty, he’s a people pleaser. As both dinner parties continue, relationships become more fractured, friendships and boundaries are pushed to the limit.


The script is a fine blend of acerbic put downs, and on point observations, whilst at times dealing with dark subjects including abuse, grief and prejudice Whilst some may feel dissatisfied with the rather abrupt ending, I rather enjoyed that the play left it’s characters dealing with their issues as opposed to resolving them: like a snapshot into their world.

There are fine solid performances throughout from all 6 actors: however I find that none of their characters were particular likeable, just as you begin warming to one of them, they’ll do or say something that will just grate on you. Director Kayleigh Hawkins certainly works her cast hard; with full costume and scene changes throughout neither which detract from the story. There is no interval either so the play never loses momentum allowing the lighter moments to shine through, whilst enabling the tension build and the mood to darken.


The promotional material claims The Loves of Others to be “A Modern Northern Abigail’s Party”, which will certainly draw in the punters, but may also mean that the two could be unfairly compared. This is a funny, brave, ambitious, and at times miserable look at modern British life, a hark back to the Great British kitchen sink dramas, only replacing the kitchen sink with a selfie, and a bottle of vino! 

The Salford Belles

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Jack Land Nobel’s darkly comedic soap opera The Salford Belles is headed to Hope Mill Theatre from tomorrow as part of The Greater Manchester Fringe this month.

First staged as The Barnsley Belles by the Yorkshireman Company back in July 2013 and now given a Salfordian twist by LS Theatre Productions, The Salford Belles promises to be a little like an episode of Coronation Street screened way, way after the watershead!

We meet Queenie, Mary and Martha who are all are at their wits end after a lifetime of cooking, cleaning, caring and conspiring. They are all desperate for change – but at what cost? Join The Salford Belles in this hilarious dark comedy and discover what goes on behind closed doors when the washing’s brought in from the rain and the curtains are drawn.

Catch the show from Monday 17th July until Saturday 22nd at Hope Mill Theatre, tickets available via the link below;

http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk/index.php#startlisting