Owen McCafferty’s 1997 play Mojo Mickybo is set during a hot Belfast summer in the early 1970’s, where two boys’ innocent friendship is eventually soured by the growing troubles. The two hander gets a lovely production at the intimate Trafalgar Studio 2 (and at the Arcola before that) directed by Jonathan Humphreys and starring Martin Brody and Benjamin Davies as the title characters (plus a host of others from cinema usherettes to locals thugs). It’s a cliché, but a true one, that Irish accents of every sort are very melodic, even poetic (despite some harshness in certain version of the Ulster accent), so hearing the childish rhymes and jokes in the cadences of the nine counties is a pleasure itself, but McCafferty also has a great ear for the ways people really do speak, he is steeped in the culture replicated onstage.
The play is mostly about the firm friendship between the two boys, only moving onto the horrible adult inspired events that arbitrarily lead to the end of their friendship at the end of the play. For now they are children to whom bullets don’t really kill, when the imagination can let you be a superhero and where a journey around the world can be completed before teatime.
We also get a sense of 1970’s childhood, days out playing games, being Batman and Robin (or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), making dens, starting harmless gangs with terrifying enemies (that you’re not scared of…). It all seems a much simpler time than now. Kids weren’t savvy to the ways of the world, adult society was very separate from children’s, games had to be made up, whereas now we have every form of entertainment from the internet and mobile phones to computer games and DVDs to ensure that the little darlings aren’t bored, and children are pandered to at many social occasions. Of course all these things are indoor activities where parents can protect their offspring, except for the mobile phone which also helps to keep tabs on children. Due to a fear culture (and being generally risk averse), fostered by the media, I can’t think that many parents would ever give such free reign to their children as Mojo and Mickybo had. And that is actually a sad thing; independence is a wonderful asset in life, as is the ability to find wonder and amusement outside the walls of your house or pre-packaged home entertainments. I’m certainly not proposing a return to 1970’s values, the UK and Ireland are undoubtedly better places now than then (especially so for Belfast), and who would want a return to a society with more discrimination, gender roles potent, and increased violence in many areas of society? But with all our progress some spark of personal freedom has been lost.
The acting is excellent, a mixture of necessarily broad performances and touches of nuance. It’s a very brisk and engaging 70 minutes, with the reality of the (sometimes incomprehensible) adult world hitting you just as you’ve really begun to like Mojo and Mickeybo. A fine production, with a healthy dose of comedy, also garners praise for the existence of the Trafalgar Studio 2, where else in the West End would such work be performed?