Sandy Pritchard-Gordon

Sandy Pritchard-Gordon
Theatre Blog

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Mood Music at The Old Vic

The Old Vic has done it again and come up with yet another top-notch production.  Mood Music, a cracking new play by Joe Penhall opened on the 21st April and it is excellent.  I originally booked to see it as Rhys Ifans, a great favourite of mine, was due to take the role of Bernard.  Unfortunately, he had to pull out, but no worries, because the excellent Ben Chaplin has taken over.  He, like the entire cast are without criticism as is the staging, direction and script.

Hildegard Bechtler’s set just comprises a ceiling of hanging microphones and a bare stage apart from set of drums, electric piano, two guitars and a few chairs.  But that’s enough to transport us to a room devoted to recording music.  Joe Penhall has written a play for our #MeToo times, except that he penned it before the Weinstein/Spacey et al furore broke.  It’s obvious from Mood Music that the recording industry isn’t exempt from ego and narcissism and the content of the play is authenticated by the playwright witnessing musical machinations whilst writing his award-winning musical “Sunny Afternoon”.

Ben Chaplin's Bernard is a successful, middle-aged, twice-divorced pop music producer/song writer who has decided he wants to work with a naïve young Irish singer-songwriter, Cat, played with aplomb by newcomer Seana Kerslake.  Both characters are flawed thanks to their backgrounds and the play takes us on a bumpy ride through their artistic differences and ultimate caustic fall out.  The ride explores the creative process when it comes to writing and recording an album, excessive egos and narcissism.  And how an experienced older man can creatively abuse and control a fragile young girl.  The psychotherapists and lawyers become involved when Penhall explores who owns what and who controls whom when something is being produced that cannot be owned or controlled.  Ultimately, as one of the character says, “musicians don’t really ever like one another.  They just like the music.  When they’re actually playing, everything’s fine.  The rest of the time it’s like Stockholm syndrome”.  We kind of know this from the various legendary  Rock ‘n Roll spats.

The format of the play is quite complex in that Bernard and Cat’s dialogue with each other, whilst trying to make music together, is interspersed with overlapping dialogue they both have with their lawyers and respective therapists.  But this is expertly handled by Director Roger Michell, who has brought the whole piece smoothly together like a beautifully choreographed dance.   Not only that but no-one is ever in any doubt that the two main characters are musically adept.  This is easy when it comes to Seana Kerslake as she has an excellent singing voice and plays the guitars to the manor born.  Chaplin, on the other hand, was apparently unsure he had any musical ability at all.  Really?

The entire cast are exemplary.  My oh my how Chaplin can channel his inner bastard while still retaining a sexy charm.  There are times when his delivery hits the button so effectively that the audience takes an involuntary intake of breath.  And what a find in Seana Kerslake.  She is so adept at highlighting her vulnerability and her sadness when talking about her late musician father is touching in the extreme. And, as mentioned before, she can sing and play the guitar. The always watchable Neil Stuke as Seymour, Bernard’s laid back, scruffy lawyer turns spin into an art form, whilst Kurt Egyiawan plays Miles, Cat’s typical, be-suited lawyer with a conscientious intenseness

Pip Carter and Jemma Redgrave are the two eminently believable therapists Ramsay and Vanessa, who try their best to engage with their clients.  So believable is Redgrave as the beleaguered Vanessa that it’s difficult not to sympathise when Cat yells at her that she’s made everything worse.

Music is known to affect emotion and Mood Music certainly lifted my spirits.  I didn’t want it to end. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket.

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