Ensemble Theatre, February 1


Melanie Tait is a fine playwright, but she’s just missed the bullseye on this one. As plays and films stretching from Macbeth all the way to Bernd Eichinger’s brilliant screenplay for Downfall (about Adolf Hitler’s final weeks) have shown, villainous protagonists are so much more compelling if we see some species of the charm that lure others into becoming victims or into turning a blind eye. The problem is that Mike King, played by Tony Cogin, does not just lack the charm the play wants him to have, he’s reptilian from the outset, and so his behaviour comes as no particular surprise.

Amber McMahon. Photos: Prudence Upton.

Mike is a successful radio talkback host of 30 years’ standing, with national reach from nine to noon each weekday morning. He’s also fond of behaving badly. Tait’s play has him surrounded by women who range or morph between being complicit and confrontational, and her work is about the power that position can bestow, and whether the lines around consensual sex are blurred or hard and fast.

He works for an ABC-like network (the contrast with commercial radio being emphasised), and when we first meet him, he’s fresh off the plane from Fiji, having attended an anger management retreat after hurling a mixing desk at an intern. Tait’s other characters are Louise, Mike’s long-term executive producer (Sharon Millerchip), Noa, a new junior producer (Alex King), Troy, the station manager (Ben Gerrard) and Jez, an ex-producer and now hugely successful podcaster (Amber McMahon).

Millerchip’s Louise is beautifully drawn and performed, and if Tait had created a Mike to match, or perhaps if Cogin could have oozed more magnetism, A Broadcast Coup would instantly be stronger. “Could you be more of a cliché?” Louise asks Mike at one point, and therein lies the problem. As she routinely does, Millerchip commands the stage with consummate ease, her Louise being smart, funny, briskly efficient and obsessively dedicated – so dedicated that she has been tidying up after Mike’s transgressions for years.

McMahon and Sharon Millerchip.

Designer Veronique Benett’s ingenious use of the stage allows Janine Watson’s production to flit between different settings – office, studio, bar, Mike’s place – with a fluidity that’s built into the script and is vital to maintaining a galloping comedic pace.

Despite everyone having a share of the laughs, the rest of the cast can’t quite match Millerchip’s performance – although their characters aren’t as complete, either. Gerrard makes the most of the clean-living, do-things-by-the-book Troy, imbuing him with a hurt dignity in the face of Mike’s onslaughts, and an amusingly infectious elation, later. McMahon dials down her usual charisma to make Jez utterly relentless in her MeToo crusade, and while King is uneven as the young, cocky Noa, she nails some scenes, including sending up Mike and his ilk.

Ben Gerrard, Millerchip and Tony Cogin.

The play craves another layer of complexity to take it away from predictable patterns of character, behaviour and plot. Nonetheless, despite seeing the endpoint on the horizon from some way off, you are still inexorably drawn into it, both by the inherent morality tale and by Tait’s crisp wit, as when Noa says to Mike, “Women find that glistening celebrity, serious journalist, tucked-in shirt thing you have going super attractive.” It’s also Noa who points out that inanity of the idea that men don’t get the hint when someone rebuffs their advances. “We’re human beings,” she says. “Were attuned to picking up what others are putting down.” Alas, Mike’s not just stuck in a time warp, he’s probing a moral vacuum.

Until March 4.