Old Vic digital theatre review: Mood Music
James R | On 09, Jul 2020
“The music industry isn’t about healing heartbreak and vulnerability. It’s about selling it.”
Joe Penhall is a name you might not know, but is one you certainly should. The playwright the man behind Netflix’s Mindhunter and his sharp pen and witty ability to dissect characters make his work highly entertaining to watch. That’s as true as ever in Mood Music, a scathing satire of the music industry.
The play introduces us to Bernard (Ben Chaplin) and Cat (Seana Kerslake), a veteran producer and a young songwriter, who are in a fierce battle to determine who should have the copyright to her hit song – or is it his hit song? Almost a two-hander, with each character conversion with their own legal counsel (or therapist) with almost synchronised intensity, it’s a fast-paced, zinger-filled production that relishes the fun of seeing two acid-tongued antagonists going head-to-head. Before, in theory, going on to make another album together.
Ben Chaplin is marvellous as Bernard, a man who is both powerful and pathetic, a washed-up musician who wants desperately for people to value, respect and remember him – even if that desperation makes the oil-slicked big-wig a snivelling, diminutive figure. Seana Kerslake is equally convincing as Cat, who is well aware that she deserves credit for her ideas and musical talent; she does well to hold her own and make an impression in a show that centres on the pulling apart of masculine ego and supposed artistic genius. Penhall and director Roger Michell give Chaplin the stage to roam with magnetic confidence, even as they highlight the systemic privilege and abuse that he unthinkingly perpetuates.
From the opening scene, there’s a compelling understanding of the collaboration involved in any creative act, but resonances of Amy Winehouse linger beneath the surface, reminding us of the casualties and costs of the music industry. The result is a playlist of issues and pertinent questions about commerce, art, power, identity and the ever-shifting and negotiating balance of them all. It’s performed with polished brutality by two skilled players, and leaves Penhall’s name as one to watch worthy of any album cover.
Mood Music is available for free on YouTube until 7pm on 15th July 2020.