Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Guns, drugs, swords and laughs

Aces high: Skinny, (Daniel Robert Beaton (left))   finds he has a losing suit in a game with Baby,  (Oliver Harvey-Vallender), Sweets (Callum Davies) and Potts (James Weetman)


Hall Green Little Theatre


MOJO, patrons are warned on the hglt website, contains strong language which is about the same as telling the residents of Mumbai that July could see some scattered showers.

This is industrial strength strong language, carpet bombing with profanity, so much so that it loses any dramatic effect, or indeed any effect, and just becomes the dreary, everyday language of the characters, which is perhaps what is intended.

As for the characters; James Weetman is effing spot on as Sydney Potts, the scheming, dreamer employed as a general help in Ezra's seedy Atlantic club in Soho.

When he is not pilled up to the eyeballs he is hoping for his share of crumbs from Ezra's shaky table.

His big mate is Sweets, played beautifully by Callum Davies, the club's resident pill pusher who supplies not only his mother's slimming pills but also white pills that have unfortunate consequences in the bladder regions.

Davies gives us a Sweets who, in days gone by when language meant what it said, would have been as thick as the proverbial – now he is merely as intellectually challenged as two short planks. His face as ideas, which are usually bizarre, self evident or just plain stupid, flit through what passes for his mind is a picture.

Sweets and Potts did everything at the club, they even acted as doormen, collecting tickets at the entrance to the Studio, although few of the audience knew it at the time.

In a play populated by nature's less than balanced small-time gangsters they are perhaps the nearest to normal – although it is still a lengthy bus ride away.

The action takes place in July 1958 and the pair can see their fortunes being made, as hangers on rather than big players, with their discovery of Silver Johnny, a Rock ‘n' Roll star who has the ladies swooning and who is now owned by Ezra – contracts were not a big thing in the Soho club world unless taken out on someone.

Unfortunately Silver is also craved by another gangster-come-impresario, Sam Ross from sarf of the river – Richardson gang territory for those who know their 1950s and 60s gangsters – which means we are in for gang warfare, especially after Ezra ends up in not just one but two dustbins at the back of the Atlantic. It can probably be assumed that both halves of him lost that particular argument.

The Atlantic crew are led by Mickey, played by David Edgar (not the playwright incidentally), the ambitious right hand-man of Ezra – what is it they say about keeping your enemies closer than your friends? – a sharp dresser who is unsmiling and has a look of meanness about him.

Daniel Robert Beaton is effective as Skinny, another of the help, who moans about everyone behind their backs but has a real problem with Baby, Ezra's psychotic son played with a look and touch of madness by Oliver Harvey-Vallender.

Oliver Harvey-Vallender as Baby and Dan Beaton as Skinny

His violent mood swings are quite frightening while the loss of his father registers less than a Buick that had impressed him parked in the street outside. We can take it that father and son did not have a conventional relationship.

We even get a brief appearance by Silver Johnny, played by Ryan Knight, who doesn't say much, which is hardly surprising as he is gagged and trussed up like a frozen chicken for most of his time on stage.

The crew are holed-up in the club awaiting an attack by Ross and his men and as the tension mounts so do the arguments and disputes as well as enough homophobic references to suggest there is something we are not being told, or at least has not been made clear, about all these relationships.

West End clubs were the territory of the sexually ambivalent Kray twins, enemies of the Richardsons, remember.

There are changing alliances and allegiances with loyalty only to whoever seems to offer the best escape, least trouble of  greatest chance of survival. The problem is that it is difficult to care about what happens to any of them.

The characters appear on cue but Jez Butterworth's 1995 script never gives us the chance to know them, understand them or even like or dislike them. They are never more than two-dimensional figures and we know as much about them as we do about Ezra and Sam Ross – and they don't appear.

There are some funny lines, and laughs along the way, but as black comedies go, this is somewhat vacuous with an ending that doesn't really justify the two hours it took to get there.

We know Baby is a nutter, that he bullies gofer Skinny, that Mickey wants to be top dog and that Sweets and Potts will never be any more than foot soldiers in the gang hierarchy. We learn all this before the interval and the end does little more than confirm it.

Which is no reflection on the acting, which was of a universally high standard and could hardly be faulted, nor the direction by Jean Wilde, which was well-paced and showed how silence could be just as telling as words. 

Long pauses, when it is obviously not forgotten lines, makes an audience uneasy, they are conditioned to expect words, after all isn't that what people acting is all about? So give them silence and the audience creates its own tension, or indeed in other circumstances, its own humour or emotion. It is a useful and powerful addition in the stagecraft toolbox. 

Wilde had also created some clever scene changes on a simple but effective set designed by Wilde and Roy Palmer – Palmer was also responsible for the clever lighting – including bright sunshine through a venetian blind.

But in the end it was an unpleasant, unfulfilling story, if that was the point it succeeded admirably, if not it was rescued by some disciplined direction and equally fine acting, which is what earned the stars.

Roger Clarke

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