He stars as Sweets in a new production of the 1995 gallows comedy “Mojo” by Jez Butterworth, of “Jerusalem” fame. Sweets is a flailing drug dealer who finds himself in the middle of a turf war in London’s Soho in 1958.
The action takes place in a dank rock’n’roll club. When bits of the owner are found in two bins, a battle breaks out between his psychotic son Baby (Ben Whishaw) and the ambitious club manager Mickey (Brendan Coyle from “Downton Abbey”).
Sweets and his fast-talking friend Potts (an amusingly hyperactive Daniel Mays) get caught in the crossfire, and their puffed-up gangster swagger soon turns to quivering jelly. Grint does a particularly good line in bug-eyed sweaty panic.
The plot flags a bit in Act 2, and the bloody denouement lacks a crucial cornerstone of motivation.
Whishaw’s performance is powerful compensation. He’s gentle one moment, sadistic the next, and creates terror with a smile. It travels at the speed of a bullet in Ian Rickson’s well-choreographed production. Rating: ****.
There’s comedy of a different sort in “Perfect Nonsense,” based on the Jeeves and Wooster stories of P.G. Wodehouse.
Stephen Mangan stars as Bertie Wooster, a well-meaning toff who gets tangled in a knot of theft schemes, complicated courtships, and terrifying uncles.
The other roles are taken by Matthew Macfadyen and Mark Hadfield, and the costume changes and role doublings are handled with expert silliness. (Macfadyen simultaneously plays a pert niece and her spluttering mustachioed guardian at one point.)
Jeeves, Bertie’s famously capable “gentleman’s gentleman,” creates the set and scenery -- including a stage revolve -- to help his master tell the story.
The only quibble is that the character of Jeeves gets a bit lost in the role-doubling mayhem. He’s just one of Macfadyen’s many parts in the show, and not quite the linchpin he might be.
It’s still as fluffy and precarious as a souffle, and the gags come thick and fast. Rating: ****.
The clever jury-room drama “Twelve Angry Men,” based on Reginald Rose’s 1957 screenplay, comes to the Garrick Theatre.
Martin Shaw plays a juror who believes there may be reasonable doubt about the guilt of a young black man on trial for murdering his father. The other jurors, all white males, are against him, and he fights his corner by picking up on details that the lawyers have missed.
Shaw holds it all together with good-guy tenaciousness, and there’s great support from Jeff Fahey (“Lost”) as his chief antagonist with a hair-trigger temper.
Robert Vaughn (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) suffers heartrending memory losses and has to read many of his lines from sheets of paper. It pulls focus terribly, even when the others stay in character to prompt and help him.
Christopher Haydon’s production is a traditional affair, with the virtues of good old-fashioned stagecraft. Rating: ****.
“Mojo” is at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Information: http://www.atgtickets.com or +44-844-871-7615
“Jeeves and Wooster” is at the Duke of York’s Theatre. http://www.atgtickets.com or +44-844-871-7615
“Twelve Angry Men” is at the Garrick Theatre. http://www.nimaxtheatres.com or +44-844-412-4662
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** So-so * Mediocre (No stars) Poor
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/ThompsonWarwick.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.