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Mojo Mickybo at the Union Theatre | Review

As a child, I was pretty gregarious. Going through infant, junior and high school, I had a good circle of friends, at least one of whom – Susan Woods – was going to be my best friend forever. But as we get older, friendships fall by the wayside. It’s not a deliberate act, it is just that life tends to get in the way. This is particularly true of the two boys at the heart of Owen McCafferty’s one-act play Mojo Mickybo which is having a run out at the Union Theatre.

Mojo Mickybo
Mojo Mickybo Michael Condron Left and Terry Keeley Picture by Hugh Russell.

1970s Belfast was not the safest place to be. The Troubles were at their height and violence was never more than a street away. But none of that matters to Mojo (Michael Condron) and Mickybo (Terence Keeley), two 9-year-old boys who are best friends. They may be from different parts of Belfast and on different sides of the sectarian divide but, as far as they are concerned, they are Butch and Sundance, two heroes alone against the world. They do everything together and always have each other’s back as they take on the trials and tribulations of daily life. Whether it’s running from bullies, playing headers, having their first cigarette, or sneaking into the movies, Mojo and Mickybo do it together. The differences between their heritage and the violence going on around them is not going to affect their friendship, until one day, it does.

For a one-hour play, Mojo Mickybo packs a heck of a lot in. The two boys are typical youngsters, out in the world, unafraid of anything and always getting into mischief. But they do not live in isolation, and Owen McCafferty has populated their world with a host of other people including parents, other children, an overly friendly bus driver and the staff of the local cinema, all of which are played by Condron and Keeley. More of that in a moment.

The only problem I have with the story is the questions it leaves. It’s understandable when telling a story from the boys’ point of view that they don’t necessarily question things or want to know more, but for me, there were gaps that I really wanted filled. For example, the story behind the Saturday morning ice cream trips. That one put my mind into overdrive, and I have a dozen theories as to what was going on there. If Owen reads this and wants to let me know, I promise not to tell.

Mojo tells the boys’ story via a series of flashbacks to major events in their friendship, from their first meeting to final parting with the actors jumping in and out of characters at the drop of a hat. It is difficult to describe, but every character is wonderfully drawn and portrayed. So, for the moments they are in the story, they are totally believable. As a child that went to Saturday Morning pictures, I absolutely loved the usherette at the cinema.  Let’s be honest, I have met her and been kicked out of the cinema by her for mucking around. The portrait was so perfect, and that is true of all the ‘secondary’ characters. Director Lisa May moves things in such a way that, combined with the actor’s vast range of voices and accents, you are never at a loss as to who is speaking to who, even when interacting with themselves in a conversation. There was an issue at times with the sound. The Union performance space was quite echoey and occasionally the combination of echo, accent and slang made it difficult to hear exactly what was being said by the actors.

In the titular roles Condron and Keeley capture that wide-eyed innocence and sense of excitement that the young have perfectly. The performance is not just very physical – the guys must be exhausted at the end of the performance – but also psychological. You do not see two adult men running around Stuart Marshall’s set. No, you see two children exploring a world of unlimited potential. The boys go through a lot and the two actors portray everything they encounter with a style and grace that would be hard to better.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland seem like a long time ago, but the reality is that the divisions still exist, even if it is all a bit more civilised. Mojo Mickybo captures the time when violence was an everyday occurrence but if you were the Butch and Sundance of Belfast, well you were unstoppable. A fascinating and thoroughly engrossing piece of writing brought to life by two amazing and talented actors.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Belfast. The summer of 1970. The heat’s meltin’ the tarmac on the street, the buses are burning bright and punters are drinking petrol outta milk bottles”.
Mojo and his mate Mickybo are two nine-year-old boys from opposing sides of the sectarian divide. They are ‘thick as two small thieves’, playing headers, being mouthy, building huts, spitting from cinema balconies and re-enacting their favourite movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They are young cowboys in the making, with the violence of The Troubles only obliquely impacting on them – until finally their friendship is destroyed in a way that they only later come to understand.

UNION THEATRE
OLD UNION ARCHES
229 UNION STREET
LONDON
SE1 0LR
30 March 2022 – 2 April 2022
http://uniontheatre.biz/

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