Review: A Broadcast Coup (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 26 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Melanie Tait
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Tony Cogin, Ben Gerrard, Alex King, Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Michael King is one of those stars of Australian radio, a straight white man of an older generation, retaining popularity on a waning platform. He presents a decent front, conscious of prevailing social expectations, but as we discover in Melanie Tait’s A Broadcast Coup, some leopards never change their spots. His younger colleagues however, have no capacity for tolerating his archaic ways, and as the title suggests, a revolution is under way.

The destination is predictable. From the play’s very first minutes, we can see no where else for the story to end, but thankfully the journey getting there proves to be deeply satisfying. Tait’s exhaustive representation of the nuances pertaining to current discussions, about gender and about power in general, are finely observed and thoroughly considered. Her dialogue is captivating, and her characters feel richly imagined. Her plot for  A Broadcast Coup is engaging throughout, with a narrative that tells us categorically what our future is going to look like, and how we must act today, not only to be magnanimous, but also for reasons of self-interest and self-preservation.

Janine Watson’s direction of the piece is passionate, with an unmistakeable generosity that allows each personality we encounter, to be convincing and compelling. Watson frames the show’s arguments in ways that appeal to our humanity, preventing any assertions from coming across lofty, radical or exclusionary.

Set and costumes by Veronique Benett take inspiration from real-life examples of broadcast studios and media companies, accurate with the obsolescence and dourness being portrayed. Lights by Matt Cox are sensitively calibrated, to precisely articulate all the tonal shifts, for a show that moves effortlessly between comedy and tragedy. Clare Hennessy brings dramatic tension with her music and sound design, especially memorable for the hyper-realistic audio documentation, of sexual assault victims and their testimonies.

Actor Alex King plays with conspicuous dedication and charisma, a modern ingenue Noa, slightly naïve but mostly gregarious and impressively erudite. The role of the villain Mike is performed by Tony Cogin, who although lacks the swagger of a celebrity Casanova, speaks with the persuasive voice of a veteran radio star. Amber McMahon’s admirable dynamic range as podcaster and antagonist Jez, delivers scenes that are full of gripping intrigue. Louise, the faithful radio producer, is given emotional authenticity by Sharon Millerchip. Ben Gerrard’s comic timing is an undeniable highlight, as executive Troy who struggles to keep his troublesome headliner under control.

The story comes to a gratifying conclusion, only because enough people in the story decide to do the right thing. It is evident that what the system encourages, is for individuals to turn a blind eye, and allow bad things to persist. The system rewards such behaviour, because it does not wish to change. What we think of as rot, is to the system, beneficial elements that keep it perpetuating.

What we see in A Broadcast Coup is that humans know instinctively and objectively, right from wrong, yet many of us are comfortable, from a lifetime of habituation, to accept deplorable conditions. We need to stop protecting a system that does not serve us, and distressing and awkward as it may be in the interim, to disrupt everything that we know to be appalling.