It might seem unlikely that Eamon Farren, who is best known to Sydney Theatre Company audiences for his turns in Shakespearean and Victorian dramas, would appear on the same stage as Jeremy Davidson, lead singer of blues-rock outfit The Snowdroppers, who take their name from a 1920s slang term for cocaine addicts. Yet in STC’s latest production Mojo by Jez Butterworth, the two are part of an all-male cast that will bring this ’50s gang story to life under the direction of Iain Sinclair.
Farren might be the actor of the two but it is Davidson who first worked with Sinclair in 2008. “I worked with Nobby [Sinclair] when my band The Snowdroppers did some music for him on a play at Belvoir Street called Killer Joe,” Davidson explains. The production still sticks in Farren’s mind, who was fresh out of drama school when he saw it. “I loved that show; it was the first show I’d ever seen that Iain directed and it was killer. The whole musical element that [The Snowdroppers] did lifted that play.”
Sinclair obviously agreed, because even back then, Mojo was on his mind. Davidson recalls, “When we did Killer Joe, he said, ‘I’ve got this play and if I ever get it up I’d love you to be in it.’” What seemed like a friendly gesture half a decade ago became a reality last year when Sinclair showed up to a Snowdroppers album launch and said, “I’m doing the play, do you want the job?”
Keen for the challenge and excited by the production, Davidson said yes. Butterworth’s work has been taking England by storm for years now, though it was only last year that his most successful play Jerusalem got an airing here by the independent New Theatre in a production that garnered multiple audience and award nominations alike. Mojo was the first Butterworth play produced back in 1995 and is credited for kicking off a revival of British gangster films – the most famous of which, Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, has become a classic.
Just as in those films, the stakes are very high from the start in this claustrophobic, seedy comedy. “From the word ‘go’ it is on,” Davidson says. Farren adds, “Our club owner turns up in two barrels, sawed in half, and it’s very obvious very quickly that they’re coming to get us.” Set over two days on two levels of the one club, the show has that Tarantino-esque quality of a group of men locked in together needing to figure out whom they can trust.
Set in late ’50s London, with costumes and accents to boot, the whole thing is a lot of fun for the cast, but Butterworth’s words manage to keep them from pushing the comedy. “What’s cool about the script,” Farren says, “is that [Butterworth]’s super funny and gives you pearler lines but at the same time he never lets it go, it never flies off into slapstick. The situation is so intense and such a pressure-cooker vibe that the comedy exists in a perfect way.”
As well as a musician, Davidson is a key actor in the plot of the story, playing Silver Johnny, the teen idol who draws people to the club every weekend. It seems this transition to ‘serious actor’ is proving a fun challenge, not only for him but for his guitarist, Paul Kilpinen, who is also in the production.
“Iain makes us speak to each other in accents, so you get used to it,” Davidson says. “I’m sitting there on the first day trying to do this accent and I can see Paul is looking at me thinking, ‘I can’t wait to tell the rest of the band about you.’”
Mojo is running at Wharf 1, The Sydney Theatre Company from Saturday May 17 until Saturday July 5, with tickets available through the Sydney Theatre Company website.