Joe Penhall’s new production Mood Music, directed by Roger Michell, is a timely look at exploitation, gender and what we will do to achieve our dreams. Irish singer/songwriter Cat (Seána Kerslake) is over the moon when she gets the chance to work with Bernard (Ben Chaplin), the man behind some of her late father’s favourite songs. Bernard just wants a female singer because she is cheaper. Through their psychotherapists, Vanessa and Ramsey (Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter) and their lawyers Neil Stuke’s Seymour (Stuke replaced Chaplin in BBC series Game On) and Kurt Egyiawan’s Miles provide this much-needed buffer to a destructive relationship.
On the surface Mood Music is about an arrogant and destructive producer and naïve protégé but Penhall’s script is deeper than that, as Cat becomes as destructive as her mentor; there has been failure in their duty of care towards this young woman, who they realise is easier to pay off than deal with a court case. In the end, Cat loses everything she built up and Bernard carries on as before.
Penhall explored similar themes in Blue/Orange, a play about a black mental health patient, Christopher and the battles his consultants face over his care. Race rather than gender dominates, but once again a character is exploited by the white male characters and Christopher, like Cat, is still able to play the system but not before getting badly burnt.
Both also look at mental health, the death of Cat’s father at an early age has hit her hard and she puts up with Bernard to prove she can be a success whilst Bernard is abandoned by wives and his warring parents which shapes his songs and his outlook to life.
Chaplin is great as the smug but talented Bernard, getting to grips with a complicated character and both Kerslake and Chaplin are at their best when the lawyers and psychotherapists are out of the picture, Redgrave and Carter primarily seem to provide exposition and ask questions rather than function as fully developed characters. After a slow start Egyiawan, as the horrified Miles trying to do right by Cat when everyone else isn’t, provides one of the few sympathetic performances of the night. Whereas Stuke is good comic relief as he realises that Bernard has lied and put his career, and possibly the record company’s reputation at risk.
There are timely comparisons with Kesha’s case against Dr Luke and Sony and of course the #Metoo scandal as toxic masculinity and society’s perceptions of male talent are dominant in this rich but sometimes difficult play.
Mood Music ends its run 16 June, make sure you don't miss it. Book your tickets here.
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