Wednesday April 24, 2024


By Diana Simmonds
February 3 2023

A BROADCAST COUP, Ensemble Theatre & Sydney Festival, 26 January-4 March 2023. Photography by Prudence Upton: above - Alex King and Sharon Millerchip; below - Ben Gerrard and Amber McMahon; below again - Tony Cogin and company

Melanie Tait is a playwright with a sharp eye for human foibles and how they play out between people. She also has a wicked sense of humour and it comes out in her writing. A Broadcast Coup has all those qualities and is all #MeToo contemporaneity and big city media smarts, yet it’s her last play and major hit, The Appleton Ladies Potato Race, which is – despite its comical whimsy – the more memorable of the two.

The coup in question is one which may be facing morning radio star Mike King (Tony Cogin) as he returns from an anger management retreat in Fiji. Ho ho ho, he is not the slightest bit abashed by this. He has blustered and bullied and charmed listeners, management and work colleagues for more than 20 years. His ratings are stellar so he is blind to the changing world and also to his own behaviour. That he could be heading for the high jump is a joke – he believes.

Not so confident of his position yet loyal to a fault is his longtime executive producer Louise (Sharon Millerchip). She is inured if not blind to his defects and it’s her desensitised state which quickly becomes apparent to the rest of us. That she foresees everything, deals with everything, fixes everything and has the show running like a well-tuned Bentley is both maddening (to women who recognise the traits) and ultimately a fatal flaw.

One-time junior producer and now rapidly-rising podcaster reappears in their eye-line. Jez (Amber McMahon) is full of fire and fervour for lifting rocks to see what crawls out, then stomping hard with the full force of her campaigning zeal. She is the immediate focus of admiration and enthusiasm from the latest junior producer, Noa (Alex King), a naif with antennae constantly seeking out incorrect thought.


Gliding in and out on a whisper of tightly-contained exasperation, with unfulfilled KPIs trailing behind him, is station manager Troy (Ben Gerrard). In other circumstances, he would be the office piñata, but with Mike King to hand, Troy is an almost sympathetic presence, which is funny in itself when he’s not raising laughs of his own.

Mike King’s imminent downfall is blindingly evident from the beginning, although to be fair, a much-deserved downfall can be a long time coming in Sydney radio. However, exploring the machinations around his past, the present, these women and their varied relationships with him take an awfully long time.

The acquisition and abuse of power by heedless white men is a standard trope these days and nothing is added in A Broadcast Coup to either illuminate or broaden interest. While stereotypes can make points and squeeze laughter from bitter fruit, in this instance however, they are more an abundance of cliches lending a fuzzy quality to what could be thrillingly razor-edged.

Veronique Benett has devised a clever set that sketches in the radio studio, a neighbourhood bar and Mike’s luxe home with a simple mix of two kidney-shaped desks, wheeled on and off and into different configurations. Studio mics drop from above; a raised platform displays the show’s weekly storyboard and the well-integrated lighting (Matt Cox) make a satisfying whole. At the same time, Clare Hennessy’s composed sound design delivers sporadic witty jabs at the grandiloquent orchestral chords of news themes.


A Broadcast Coup, as a whole, feels like a work in progress rather than fully realised. Janine Watson’s direction is most effective in the latter half of the 100 minutes when the work gathers steam and purpose. The performances of McMahon, Gerrard and Millerchip are as intelligent and three-dimensional as one might expect, while Cogin possibly suffers from Mike King being too much of a shit from the outset to be able to go anywhere; and King’s young Noa may need time to settle.

There is a sting in the tail, however, when it becomes suddenly clear that the dark heart of the piece is Sharon Millerchip’s serene Louise. Mike King is a collection of hoary old chestnuts and really it’s the powerful, complicit female who has for long refused to know or claim that power who is the most riveting presence. She’s where the story really starts.



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