Back in 2015, the estate of Marvin Gaye saw its finances bolstered by several million dollars, when a court decided that the creative team behind Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ were guilty of copyright infringement. Several other high-profile cases followed suit, and a murkier side of the music industry was exposed. Joe Penhall’s Mood Music now at The Old Vic uses this as the basis of a play that shows potential, but doesn’t necessarily follow through.
Granted, the play makes it a little easier for the audience to understand how a dispute over who actually wrote a song can come about, without the need of a degree in forensic musicology (yes, it’s at thing). In the case of Mood Music, everything happens in the recording studio where producer and artist work together to create a song, but when each of them has played a hand, who gets the credit, and collects the plaudits?
Bernard, the producer, is a thoroughly dislikeable character who uses his influence to manipulate the budding star, Cat. We find all this out as they talk to each other through therapists and lawyers, it transpires that Cat may have been kept drugged during a tour, and touched without her consent, opening up another strand of plot. This ends up making the story line feel conflicted, it is of course possible for these events to have happened simultaneously, but as an audience you are left with too many things happening at once, none of them getting the attention they deserve.
Penhall has written strong and believable characters, Bernard, played with wonderful authenticity by Ben Chaplin, is so vile you start to wonder if he is the wronged party, if only for a fleeting moment. Seána Kerslake gives a marvellous performance as Cat, although again the lines are blurred, and the decisions made by the character seem odd and often unfathomable.
There are certainly moments of humour, but after “girls are the new boys” I wondered if Mood Music had moved away from witty social commentary, and on to coveting laughs from purely misogynistic material.
There is very little music in this play about the music industry, despite the vast thrust stage being littered with instruments, while microphones hang from the ceiling. Yet, the stage feels underutilised, with much of the action taking place in a very small area and little happening save for drawn out conversations with the therapists – who speak as if afraid to show any emotion of their own – and lawyers. It is Neil Stuke, who in the role of one of those lawyers gives the performance of the night, with some very funny one-liners and plenty of energy.
Mood Music hits some of the right notes, but certainly not them all. The staging and cluttered plot all feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity, where a really strong narrative could have come through, the audience are left somewhat nonplussed about the whole affair.