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Review: Ben Chaplin and Séana Kerslake in Mood Music, Old Vic

Once you tune your ear to the style of the narrative and the pace of delivery Mood Music rocks.

There have been many disputes between musicians over the years - Rolling Stone has a top 12 - and former music journalists Joe Penhall takes this as the theme for his new play Mood Music at the Old Vic.

Cw-25149-660x375It is a play in which the dialogue is presented as simultaneous conversations and it takes a little getting used to but once you do is extremely effective.

The dispute that forms the central narrative is between a music producer and artist but the story is presented from each protagonists viewpoint via conversations with lawyers and therapists.

Bernard (Ben Chaplin) is the successful (and doesn't he know it) producer talking to his therapist Ramsay (Pip Carter) and lawyer Seymour (Neil Stuke).

Up and coming singer/songwriter Cat (Séana Kerslake) has her own therapist Vanessa (Jemma Redgrave) and lawyer (Kurt Egyiawan).

The two worked on an album together and then took it on tour but neither think they are getting the appropriate recognition for their work.

Rapid pace

Director Roger Mitchell often positions the actors so that they have to talk across the opposing pair - something that metaphorically reflects their relationship.  

The pace is rapid switching between recollections with barely a beat so that the stories unfold simultaneously - and you have work a little to get into the rhythm of it.

But what this style of dialogue does powerfully is show the two different perspectives on events, the different attitudes towards collaboration and the different personalities of Bernard and Cat.

Bernard is brazen, entitled, borderline sociopathic, Cat is bruised, the underdog but has her claws out.


Old Vic Mood Music Uncomfortable laughs

What is also revealed is the darker underbelly of the music industry and the toll it takes.

Bernard's extreme arrogance may be amusing, even laugh out loud funny at times but there are also some uncomfortable laughs, some gasps and some downright uncomfortable moments that expose the vulnerability of young artists, particularly young female artists in the music industry.

The camaraderie of life on tour masks a lack genuine care for health and well-being and the sense of Cat's loneliness and isolation is stark.

Whose side are you on?

In presenting the narrative as two different perspectives Joe Penhall is perhaps inviting us to choose a side; asking who we believe.

I don't know whether he came across people like Bernard while a music journalist but in painting him as such an unlikeable character, albeit a witty one, it overshadows any talent he might have which skewers the debate.

While Cat isn't without her flaws, Bernard comes across as the villain of the piece and it almost doesn't matter whether he is right or not and I, for one, wanted to see him brought down.

Mood Music rocks

Full marks to the cast, in order to harness the power of the script it takes deft delivery and precise timing.

Once you tune your ear to the style of the narrative and the pace of delivery Mood Music rocks.

It is a powerful, punchy, dark and witty piece of theatre and I'm giving it 4 stars.

It's at the Old Vic until June 16 and is 2 hours and 5 minutes including an interval and I saw a preview performance.

Related reading:

Nine things to know about Mood Music

Review of Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange at the Young Vic, starring Daniel Kaluuya