Mojo (Michael Condron) and Mickybo (Terence Keeley) are nine year-old boys who become friends in Belfast in the summer of 1970. The setting foretells all you need to know about how this friendship is to be affected by events, which are totally out of their control.
There is a really clever introduction to the young boys, which gets revisited towards the end: they almost sing-song their names and change the order to “Mickybo Mojo” or “Mojo Mickybo”. For me, this had two strong aspects. First, it really entwines the boys; together they are Mojo Mickybo, and you can imagine them always both being underfoot. Secondly, it shows that these youngsters are the same. No matter their background, no matter the tradition in which they have been brought up, they are just two lads growing up in the same place, interested in the same things; wanting a hut to live in and to eventually grow up to be like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, riding off to Australia.
The play tears along, thanks in no small part to the sharp direction of Lisa May, and also the sheer energy coming from the two actors. Each of them plays multiple roles; scenes and characters change with a literal twirl. An exaggeration of body language works to great effect, showing the small young lads compared to the bigger, older bullies (well named as Gank the Wank and Fuckface), and this culminates in a spectacular fight, where it’s hard to believe there are only two actors on stage. The physical theatre, the comic timing, the choreography behind this is absolutely top notch. On top of that, the ease with which Keeley transforms into Mojo’s mother and Condron into Mickybo’s father is hugely impressive, moving from childhood innocence and games into world – and specifically Northern Ireland – weary adulthood. Suffice it to say, both Condron and Keeley are superb.
From the start it is clear that the actors are going to take us on a journey, and we need to pay attention to their physicality and their language; to learn some Northern Irish dialect as we go along. The play, direction and delivery all help, but it’s clear that an audience prepared to put in a small amount of work will get a little more from the show, and the production trusts and respects its audience to go with this. I felt very invested, and found myself getting really tense as the play went along. Even as I laughed (and boy did I laugh a lot – the play is genuinely funny), there was a troubling sense of dread throughout, and then sadness when the inevitable result of sectarianism finally occurred.
Stuart Marshall’s set design is deceptively simple. Before the show begins, it evokes menace from a barricade constructed on the streets of Belfast, the design wordlessly and effectively setting the scene. Garth McConaghie’s sound is used to great effect throughout, but in particular as the boys play-act as cowboys. Additionally, the show offers a really slick digital programme, available through scanning a QR code, and delivered by email shortly afterwards. It is one of the better programmes I’ve seen in a while, providing a lot more than a listing of cast and crew. It includes sections about the theatre company, about the play itself and a really interesting Director’s Note.
This play is an enjoyable, thoughtful production; smart, funny and ultimately sad, with superb acting. I loved every minute spent with Mojo Mickybo.
Written by Owen McCafferty
Directed by Lisa May
Produced by Bruiser Theatre Company
Mojo Mickybo plays at Union Theatre until 2 April. Further information and tickets here.