It’s Ron Weasley! On stage! Playing a potty-mouthed drug dealer alongside Downton Abbey’s Bates, Q from Skyfall and Merlin from… Merlin.
Blimey. But this revival of Jez Butterworth’s modern classic Mojo is impressive for more than just its who’s who of cult screen stars. It’s as good a play as any to launch the stage debut of former Harry Potter sidekick Rupert Grint, cast as nightclub lackey Sweets.
Mojo is a tried and tested modern classic from the author of the 2009 smash hit Jerusalem, but the role of Sweets is about as far from the wide-eyed Ron Weasley as you could possibly get (he’s called Sweets because of his role in supplying uppers and downers, and he swears a lot, so this is not one for the younger Potter fan).
Clearly Grint has a good role model when it comes to career choices, in the form of his Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe. He turned first to theatre as the film frachise was drawing to a close, impressing in Peter Shaffer’s Equus in the role of a young man with – how shall we put this? – an intense sexual and religious commitment to horses. And he hasn’t looked back.
For its own part, Mojo is played out in a tatty beer-stained 1950s West End rock ‘n’ roll club and is a visually impressive, fast-talking play which sees Grint paired with Daniel Mays’ Potts. Potts is a marginally more intelligent pair of hands than Sweets – all quickfire working class jabber as a front for the genuine fear and unease he clearly feels, especially when he learns that his boss Ezra has been cut in half (literally) by rival club owner Sam Ross. But Grint shows his growing maturity as a performer as Potts’ much dimmer, but no less frightened, sidekick.
All the roles are as well defined as the quiffs and Butterworth’s sharp dialogue has lost none of its vim after 18 years.
As hardman Mickey, who appears to be trying to keep the club’s staff united against the growing menace, Downton’s Brendan Coyle uses his imposing physique to full effect while offering the occasional clue about his role in the fate of his dead boss. Merlin’s Colin Morgan is an accomplished study in human weakness as Skinny, his eventual fate played with precision and pathos.
There’s also an impressive turn from Ben Whishaw as Baby, the son Ezra sexually abused. It is a role which requires a vulnerability mixed with psychopathic fury, and Whishaw’s superbly modulated performance does not disappoint.
Directed by Ian Rickson (who was in charge of Mojo’s first outing) this is a smart and often chilling play which never shies away from showing us the true face of seedy criminality. No wonder the likes of Grint, Whishaw, Morgan and Coyle were drawn to it.
It makes you wonder what Ron Weasley might do next….
Mojo is running at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London W1 until February 22 2014. Box Office: 0844 871 7627