English Literature


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Mojo: Exploring the Iconic 1990s Play by Jez Butterworth

Jez Butterworth's Mojo, written in the 1990s, remains a masterpiece in the world of theatre. Set in 1950s Soho, London, the play captivates audiences with its fast-paced plot and dark comedic elements. Mojo revolves around a nightclub, a rising rock 'n roll star, and a power struggle between rival gang leaders. The term 'mojo' has multiple meanings, including a magic talisman, personal magnetism, and the power to accomplish one's desires. Let's delve deeper into this intriguing play and its fascinating characters.

The Origin and Significance of 'Mojo'

The slang term 'mojo' has its roots in the Fulɓe language of West Africa, where it initially referred to a 'medicine man.' It later became popular among Black musicians in the jazz scene of 1920s America. The term was also frequently used in blues and rock songs, such as 'Got my Mojo working' by Preston 'Red' Forrester and 'Mojo Risin' by Jim Morrison. Today, 'mojo' is commonly used to describe energy, with phrases like 'lost my mojo' signifying a loss of power or drive and 'got my mojo back' indicating a return to strength and vitality.

Interesting Facts About the Fulɓe People

The Fulɓe, also known as the Fulani, are an ethnic group primarily found in West and central Africa. They have a rich culture and history and are known for having the largest pastoral nomadic community in the world. Many prominent African leaders, including Amina Jane Mohammed, have Fulɓe ancestry.

A Synopsis of Mojo

Mojo takes place entirely in The Atlantic, a Soho nightclub, and follows the fast-paced, two-act story of Silver Johnny, a young rock 'n roll sensation in the vein of Elvis or Little Richard. As Silver Johnny's stardom rises, he becomes embroiled in a power struggle between two rival gang bosses, Ezra and Sam Ross. The play falls into the category of 'dark comedy,' also known as 'black comedy' or 'gallows comedy,' which uses humor to address taboo or serious subjects.

Trigger warning:

Mojo touches on sensitive topics such as drug abuse, animal cruelty, and murder, which may be disturbing to some audiences.

The Colorful Characters of Mojo

The all-male cast of Mojo is deeply entangled in a world of clubs, drugs, and gangs, with a penchant for foul language, cheating, and even murder. Apart from Silver Johnny, who is the only musical talent, the other characters all compete for a piece of his success. The individuals in Mojo are portrayed as ruthless, occasionally bumbling, underestimated, and often under the influence of drugs.

The Musical Influence on Mojo

After the success of Mojo, director Guy Ritchie shot to fame for his English gangster films, including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). These movies share similarities with the play, as they are fast-paced, drug-fueled, and have elements of dark comedy.

Fun fact:

Elvis Presley, who helped popularize rock 'n roll, deeply inspired the character of Silver Johnny in Mojo.

The Gripping Tale of Mojo's Characters

Ezra, the dominant leader of a gang, owns The Atlantic in Mojo, written by Jez Butterworth in 1995. Though never seen on stage, Ezra manages Silver Johnny's career and becomes caught in a violent struggle with Ross over the young star. However, his abusive behavior and power-hungry actions lead to his eventual murder.

Baby, Ezra's son, is a victim of his father's cruelty and turns to drugs and violence. While he is portrayed as genuinely psychotic, Baby is often underestimated by others. Yet, in a shocking twist, he outsmarts both Mickey, Ezra's right-hand man, and Ross, ultimately taking control. Baby even kills one of his own gang members, Skinny, in the process.

Mickey is an older member of Ezra's gang who betrays them for a share in Ross's stake in Silver Johnny's career. Despite his supposed loyalty, Baby outwits him and emerges victorious.

Skinny, a friend of Mickey's, is another member of Ezra's gang who meets his demise at the hands of Baby.

Potts and Sweets, two characters who work at Ezra's club, have no part in the core gang. They are notorious for their heavy use of amphetamines.

Silver Johnny, a fair-haired rock 'n roll protege, is the main attraction at The Atlantic. Ross sees him as both a business opportunity and a romantic interest. However, the rivalry between Ezra and Ross for control over Silver Johnny's career results in two deaths.

The most iconic monologue in Mojo is delivered by Baby in Scene 2 of Act 2.

The Unforgettable Trip

At the mere age of nine, the narrator, known as Baby, embarked on a trip to the countryside with his father. However, his memories of the journey involve a keen observation of a meat cleaver and hacksaw on the dashboard, leading him to fear for his life. Little did he know, the purpose of their expedition was to obtain free beef for their struggling café. The story begins and ends with lyrics from the famous song 'Yakity Yak (Don't talk back)' by The Coasters, adding a contextual layer to Baby's recollection.

A Blast from the Past

The narrative takes place in the late 1950s, a time when the world was swept up in the craze of rock 'n roll. In addition to this, the story is set against the backdrop of post-war economic struggles, providing a deeper understanding of the characters' motivations. A key element to the plot is the turbulent relationship between Baby and his father, which deviates from the traditional parent-child dynamics commonly portrayed in the hit song 'Yakety Yak.'

A Highly Acclaimed Play

Mojo is a highly acclaimed play, having received numerous prestigious awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award. The play's cast is all-male, and the play itself features explicit language, drug use, and even murder. Though it is classified as a dark comedy, it also delves into themes of power, abuse, and the surprising abilities of those who are often underestimated.

The Dark Underworld of 1950s Soho

Overall, Mojo is a gripping play that takes the audience on a journey through the seedy underworld of 1950s Soho in London. It explores themes of music, gangs, abuse, and power struggles, providing a unique perspective on a tumultuous era in history. Even though it was published over 25 years ago, Mojo continues to captivate and enthrall audiences worldwide.

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