A reviewer couldn’t craft a better statement than that already coined by 20 Stories High about their new show, Melody Loses Her Mojo – it is like “an illegal rave in a stately home” on stage at the Playhouse, they have said. In a way, that’s true. But the best thing to glean from this very special company is that audiences of any age can always be surprised by theatre.
As much as schoolchildren must be herded in under duress to take in their Shakespeare, so it turns out there is plenty the older theatregoer can learn from younger talent even if it might not at first seem so, as this remarkable show proves. As the first half whizzes and bangs with the energy of the mindboggling beatboxing of Hobbit, the slam poetry delivered by our heroine (Remmie Milner as Melody), and the skills of the puppeteers behind Mojo, her cuddly toy backpack, so there is a conventional storytelling behind the modern tools.
Melody Loses Her Mojo is a story about a 15-year-old girl in care. Separated from her younger sister Harmony, she is left with Mojo (the backpack), a Jiminy Cricket-style device that keeps her on the straight and narrow despite distractions from nice-but-dim rubbish drug dealer Rizla (Darren Kuppan) and initially hostile unexpected guest Blessing (Simone James). “When I’m feeling down he helps me lay off the Bacardi Breezers,” she says of her Mojo. “Just watch a DVD with a box of Malteasers.” When Melody learns Harmony is to be adopted by the same couple that sent her back, she struggles to accept the situation and vows to be reunited with her sister.
What will happen? That’s the beauty of Keith Saha’s wonderfully lyrical script – nothing is what you might expect. The language is choice (love that phrase); but it never once feels forced or inappropriate. Although each character has a dark tale to tell, their woes are not soap opera-style gratuitous. The first act takes place against a backdrop of a hand-painted gaudy fairground, the second in the greenery of the Lakes – clever. Whether your theatre-going peers are of the age to kick around the slot machines or go for a hike in the country, there’s something to relate to here.
As Melody, Remmie Milner gives a simply fantastic performance as the angry, neglected teen bursting with a near maternal love for her younger sister. Her interactions with Mojo and other puppets are joyous throughout, bringing to mind that suspension of disbelief that transfixed the city with the giants of the Sea Odyssey. Although Blessing gets many good lines, it takes just a little too long waiting for her back story to come out; and despite all the action each act might benefit from the melodrama being tightened up by five minutes each side.
Accompanied with a full engagement programme for schools and young people, Melody Loses Her Mojo launches the new autumn season for the Playhouse with style. It’s different, it’s fresh, and it’s one hell of a call to arms.