Theatre review: A Broadcast Coup, Ensemble Theatre

Misogyny and gender inequality in the media – a continuing story.

Six years on from the #MeToo reckoning, one can be left wondering if much, if anything, has changed. This can be particularly noticeable in the media, which continues to be dominated by men in positions of power. Some of these men, with questionable reputations for abuse of power continue to thrive in broadcast, film and other platforms, and especially in the unregulated new media sphere. A Broadcast Coup addresses the ongoing struggle of women in the media who still must wade through the thick swamp of patriarchy to survive, let alone thrive, in their careers.

It is the latest outing of writer Melanie Tait, who created the popular stage show The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race, which deals with the gender pay gap. This play further explores ongoing issues of gender inequality. It offers up the opportunity for us to ask ourselves, as a collective, how we are faring in recognition of women in workplace power structures. 

Tait’s experience in broadcasting is apparent in the construction of the play: in the details of the daily running of a radio program and in characters easily recognisable from the media industry. The characters are multidimensional and fallible, which gives the narrative authenticity. Mike King (Tony Cogin), a darling of breakfast radio, is a particularly familiar figure – a middle-aged man with an over-inflated ego, who has been propped up by fame, enabling co-workers and the overall power structures, despite his increasingly anachronistic attitudes and behaviour towards women.

Mike has just returned to the unnamed public broadcaster after a stint in an anger-management centre (aka a cushy holiday in Fiji with other male celebrities whose employers are in damage control). Louise (Sharon Millerchip) is his executive producer and a long-suffering friend who has been managing the fallouts from his behaviour for years. In Mike’s absence, fresh-faced junior producer Noa (Alex King) has started out on the program, and it is clear from the first exchanges between her Mike that she, unlike other co-workers, won’t be copping any of his outdated misogyny.

A previous occupant of her position, cut-throat journalist Jez Connell (Amber McMahon) has gone from an entry-level job on Mike’s show to producing the country’s most downloaded podcast series, where she delves head-on into the entrenched patriarchy within the Australian media. Station manager Troy (Ben Gerrard) is a company man. He is used to covering up for Mike, but is reaching the end of his patience and questioning whether the status quo is good for the show, the station and his own conscience.

As the story progresses each of these characters has little epiphanies where they realise not only is Mike’s behaviour unacceptable in a new value system, but that they have been enabling him. The complexities of these characters successfully portray how difficult it is to shake the grip of ingrained misogyny in an industry, and world, which is still so forgiving of men. 

The play begins in comic mode, juxtaposing jokes that a contemporary audience would find funny (laughing at the old attitudes of men such as Mike), alongside others that elicit a cringe response because, although they may have been funny 30 years ago, they are now inappropriate. Having these running alongside each other works to sustain the audience in a state of both laughter and judgement for the first half of the play.

The show takes a dramatic turn halfway through and for a period it loses its way, unsure whether it is a comedy or a tragedy, or both. The script here appears to lose some rhythm and some of the jokes fall flat, but this could be attributed to opening night. By the end, the show redeems itself in full tragic mode as the characters face up to the tragedy of their own complicities. By this time the writing is again strong and forceful, and the audience silent.

Veronique Benett’s clever set design allows for a smooth transition from newsroom, to bar, to the swanky home of the wealthy radio host. It is simple yet effective, as is lighting by Matt Cox. 

Read: Theatre review: Trophy Boys, fortyfivedownstairs

A Broadcast Coup demonstrates, through the journeys of the characters, a historical process of values that our society has been undergoing for the past decade or so. Despite a few bumps in the transition from the comic to the tragic, it still manages to sustain its depiction of contemporary social value change, and brings this home successfully through the different stages of the cathartic journey it provided for the audience.

A Broadcast Coup by Melanie Tait
Ensemble Theatre
Director: Janine Watson
Set and Costume Designer: Veronique Benett
Lighting Designer: Matt Cox
Composer and Sound Designer: Clare Hennessy
Stage Manager: Lauren Tulloh
Costume Supervisor: Evelyn Everaerts-Donaldson
Intimacy Coordinator: Shondelle Pratt

Cast: Tony Cogin, Ben Gerrard, Alex King, Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip
Tickets: $25-$80

A Broadcast Coup will be performed until 4 March 2023.

Sarah Liversidge is a journalist and writer from Melbourne with various obsessions including politics, social issues and art in all its forms. She is currently completing a journalism degree at RMIT university where she is an editor at the student run publication, The Swanston Gazette.