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Review: Mood Music, at The Old Vic

Ben Chaplin inhabits record producer role with swaggering charisma in play about the music industry that considers gender and power imbalances

10 May, 2018 — By Sipora Levy

Seana Kerslake and Ben Chaplin in Mood Music. Photo: Manuel Harlan

THE best thing about Mood Music is Ben Chaplin’s mesmerising portrayal of Bernard, the sociopathic bully of a record producer, whose ego tramples over anyone who tries to take the spotlight away from him.

Chaplin relishes the role (originally written for Rhys Ifans) and inhabits his character with swaggering charisma.

We see him in the recording studio with Cat (a feisty performance by newcomer Seána Kerslake), a young singer/songwriter on the verge of a successful breakthrough.

They collaborate on an award-winning single, but run into difficulties when each tries to claim it as their own work.

Otherwise we observe them having sessions with their respective psychotherapists, Vanessa and Ramsay (woefully underwritten parts for Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter) or via the legal wranglings of their lawyers, Seymour and Miles (Neil Stuke and Kurt Egyiawan).

Joe Penhall, whose successes include Blue Orange, the Kinks’ musical Sunny Afternoon, and the ingenious Birthday, which imagined a man giving birth, has unfortunately little new to say here.

While entertaining in parts, it lacks dramatic tension and is often rather static. It feels like a debate about intellectual property, rather than a fully fleshed out play.

Written three years ago, its portrayal of the gender and power imbalances in the music industry ring true, but Penhall could have taken more risks.

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