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Mojo

Mojo

Mojo is a widely acclaimed 1990s play by Jez Butterworth about a nightclub, a rock ‘n roll protégé, rival gangs and a man called Baby. Set in 1950s Soho, London, the play opened at The Royal Court Theatre.

Mojo: meaning

As a slang word, mojo has a few different but related meanings. It can mean a magic talisman, personal magnetism and even the magical power to get things done.

The word is thought to have its origins in the Fulɓe language of West Africa, where a moco’o initially meant a 'medicine man'. The word moco’o morphed into the word mojo and began to be used extensively by Black musicians in the famous jazz scene of 1920s America. The word was also used in later blues and rock songs. Preston ‘Red’ Forrester wrote ‘Got my Mojo working’ in 1955, and Jim Morrison sang about 'Mojo Risin' in the 1960s.

These days 'mojo' usually means something most similar to energy. The expression, ‘I lost my mojo,” means that the person lost their power and drive, or sometimes magnetism, depending on the context. Similarly, ‘I got my mojo back’ means the same but with a more positive spin.

The Fulɓe or Fulani are an ethnic group mainly found in West Africa and parts of central Africa. They have the largest pastoral nomadic community in the world. Many current African presidents and global leaders, such as Amina Jane Mohammed, the Deputy-Secretary General of the United Nations, are considered to be Fulɓe or to have Fulɓe ancestry.

Mojo: play summary

Entirely set in 1958 in the Soho nightclub, The Atlantic, the play Mojo is a fast-paced, 2 act, dark comedy. Silver Johhny, a young rock 'n roll star in the then-popular Elvis or Little Richard style, is the subject of a power struggle between two gang bosses, Ezra and Sam Ross.

The dark comedy also referred to as 'black comedy' or 'gallows comedy', makes light of subjects usually considered taboo or very serious.

Sensitive content warning. Themes of drug abuse, animal abuse and murder are discussed.

Ezra, the owner of The Atlantic, is Silver Johnny’s jealous and domineering manager. The play opens with an unseen meeting between Ezra and Sam about the future of Silver Johnny. Outside the meeting, Ezra’s two hired guns, Sweets and Potts, talk about what is going on in the meeting. They are high on amphetamines. Baby, Ezra’s abused, psychotic son, arrives with Skinny, another member of Ezra’s gang. Baby torments Skinny to keep himself amused.

Ezra’s body is soon found in two different dustbins near The Atlantic, and Silver Johnny is missing. The gang, Mickey, Baby, Skinny, Potts and Sweets, hole up in the club to try and think of their plan of action. Their only means of defence are a rusty cutlass and an old Derringer pistol, leading to the assumption that they are more a petty crime unit than truly organised crime.

The gang begins to argue among themselves about issues ranging from who is now their leader to Skinny’s Uncle Tommy. Baby, usually underestimated, begins to show his true capabilities. He suggests that he and Mickey run the club together, but Mickey rebuffs him.

After going downstairs, Sweets discovers Silver Johnny hanging upside down from the ceiling. He shouts for the others to help him get Johnny down. Baby then reveals that he rescued Silver Johnny and has killed Ross. He also recounts that Mickey sold them all out to Ross in exchange for a share of the Silver Johnny business.

Skinny tries to defend Mickey and insults Baby, who calmly shoots him in the head with the Derringer. With all his credibility and authority lost, Mickey cannot save his friend, Skinny, who dies.

Mojo, Picture of Elvis Presley, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Elvis Presley helped to popularise the rock 'n roll genre.

Following the success of Jez Butterworth’s play Mojo, Guy Ritchie made his name making similar English gangster movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). Ritchie’s movies were also fast-paced, drug or expletive-laden and had elements of dark comedy.

Mojo: cast

The cast of Mojo is all male and primarily involved in clubs, drugs and gangs. They swear profusely, cheat regularly, occasionally murder and are generally a little amoral. Johnny Silver is the only musical talent, with the rest competing for the right to capitalise on his skill.

Jez Butterworth's Mojo: characters

The characters of Mojo are portrayed as primarily ruthless, occasionally bumbling, sometimes underestimated, often high and even capable of murder.

Ezra

Although never seen in the play, Ezra is the gang leader who owns The Atlantic and manages Silver Johnny. He is Baby's abusive father and is murdered by Ross in a power struggle over the business rights to Silver Johnny’s career.

Baby

Baby is Ezra’s abused son. He has learned to abuse drugs and others. He is portrayed as genuinely psychotic and is often underestimated. Baby ultimately turns the tables on Mickey, Ross and his father, and he does so with a dreamy, disconnected delight. He also kills Skinny in the penultimate act of his power play.

Mickey

Ezra’s right-hand man, Mickey, is older than the others. Mickey sells out his gang for a share in Ross’s stake in Silver Johnny’s promising career. Baby ultimately outplays him.

Skinny

Skinny is a member of Ezra’s gang and Mickey’s friend. Baby shoots him in the second act.

Potts and Sweets

These two work in Ezra’s club but are more on the fringes of the core gang. They both consume a large number of amphetamines.

Silver Johnny

The blonde rock 'n roll protégé is popular with the girls and a big drawcard for the club. Ross' interest in him is depicted as twofold, business-related and amorous. He is viewed as a star in the making and the fight to manage his career leads to two deaths.

Jez Butterworth’s Mojo: monologue

The famous Baby monologue takes place in Scene 2, Act 2 of the play, Mojo. Baby reminisces about when he was nine and went on a trip to the country with his father. His father had a share in an unsuccessful café. He mentions how he noticed a meat cleaver and hacksaw on the dashboard. Immediately, he assumed that his father was taking him out of town to kill him. He suffered in silence until they reached Wales and Ezra stopped the van near some cows in a field. Instead of killing Baby, he killed one of the cows by running it over with his van. They then cut up the cow and returned to the city with free beef for the café.

Baby starts and ends the monologue with lyrics from The Coaster’s 'Yakity Yak (Don’t talk back)' (1958).

You better wax that kitchen flo' Or you ain't rock 'n rollin' no mo'! Yakety Yak! (Don't talk back!)

The context for this monologue is the popularity of rock 'n roll in the late 1950s when Baby is relating his story and the harsh post-war economic climate of the mid-to-late-1940s when the event probably happened.

Another contextual aspect is Baby's relationship with his father. He immediately assumes the meat cleaver will be used to kill him but is too frightened to speak about it. This is probably not an assumption that most 9-year-old boys would make about their father’s intentions. The song contrasts his relationship with his father, which is about more traditional parental relationships.

Read the full lyrics for the song Yakety Yak (Don't talk back) and compare the relationship represented in that song to the one Baby has with his father. What differences can you spot? Are there any similarities?

Mojo - Key takeaways

  • Mojo is a multi-award-winning play written by Jez Butterworth in 1995.
  • First performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, the play won the Laurence Olivier Award.
  • With an all-male cast, the language used is expletive-laden. There is also a lot of drug-taking, cheating, double-crossing and even a few murders.
  • The play is regarded as a dark comedy.
  • Baby, the lead character, is the abused son of Ezra, the nightclub owner. Everyone underestimates him, but ultimately his true capabilities are revealed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mojo

Mojo is about rock 'n roll, gangs, nightclubs, talent, abuse and power struggles in 1950s Soho, London.

Modern slang use of the word mojo means magnetism or energy.

Mojo opened at The Royal Court Theatre in 1995. It was published the same year.

Two gang bosses fight for the right to manage a talented rock 'n roll protege. One is murdered and his gang try to plan their next steps. 


Baby, the underestimated son of one gang boss, surprises everyone by winning the power struggle that follows his father's death.

The monologue by Baby happens in Scene 2 of Act 2 of the play, Mojo. It is the story of Baby's journey to the countryside with his father. 


Baby assumes he will be killed, but it turns out to be an expedition for free beef for the cafe.

Final Mojo Quiz

Question

What year is the play, Mojo set in?

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Answer

1958

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Question

Where is the play, Mojo set?

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Answer

The Atlantic, a nightclub in Soho, London.

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Question

Who is Silver Johnny?

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Answer

Silver Johnny is the Rock 'n Roll protege whose management the rival gangs are fighting over.

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Question

Who are the two rival gang bosses?

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Answer

Ezra and Ross

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Question

What kind of comedy is the play, Mojo?

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Answer

Dark comedy.

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What is a key theme in the play, Mojo?

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Answer

Power struggles.

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Question

Why is Baby so underestimated by the rest of the gang?

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Answer

Baby is abused by his father and considered mentally unstable which leads the others to underestimate his intelligence and ambition.

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What does Mickey do that undermines his credibility with the gang?

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Answer

He sells them out to Ross for a share in managing Silver Johnny.

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What are the only two items of defense that the gang have?

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Answer

A rusty cutlass and an old Derringer. A Derringer is a pistol or handgun.

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How does Baby surprise the gang?

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Answer

He rescues Silver Johnny and kills Ross, opening up the way for their gang to manage his career again. 


After offering to work together running the club with Mickey and getting turned down, he exposes Mickey and kills his ally, Skinny.

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