Mood Music manages the impressive feat of being simultaneously of the moment and out of step with the times.
The music industry can be misogynistic and motivated by greed rather than artistic endeavour. Shocker! Ben Chaplin stars in Mood Music as a fading music producer, a man with an unwavering belief in his own ego built up over years of being told just how brilliant he is (regardless of whether or not it's true). Seana Kerslake plays the idealistic, naïve young singer Cat – the foil to Chaplin's character Bernard – who, despite her talent, is chewed up and spat out by the industry.
Inevitably Bernard and Cat are surrounded by an entourage of managers, lawyers and therapists, the uppers and downers required to survive. It is through their interactions with these hangers-on that Joe Penhall hopes to get under their skin, to expose their motivations and the dark underbelly of the music industry. It is at times wickedly humorous, particularly at an awards ceremony where Bernard's need to appear anything other than desperate to win is brilliantly realised by Chaplin.
Far from revelatory, Bernard and Cat's interactions with their therapists are flat and dull. The two actors who play them, Pip Carter and Jemma Redgrave, barely have a chance to act. What little character the two therapists portray is a naivety which is hard to believe; the less savoury aspects of the entertainment industry, whilst they may finally be being addressed, are hardly revelatory. Bernard's lawyer Seymour at least has personality, and Neil Stuke brings a swagger to the stage to match that of Chaplin's, but it is not enough to make up for a script which is ultimately as shallow as the characters in it.
In many ways Penhall's play is well timed, as the repercussions of the actions of individuals such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby continue to be felt. Yet, whilst Mood Music may contain many of the themes of current discourse, it doesn't contain any of their meaning.