The Young Tycoons – Darlinghurst Theatre Company and the resurrection of mistakes. (Theatre review)


The Young Tycoons

Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Spooky Duck Productions

Eternity Playhouse 16 May to 15 June.  Buy your tickets here. 

It’s a shame, in this county, we don’t have more theatrical satire on some of our greatest high-profile melodramas, because this form of humour seems to suit Australian wit perfectly. After all, it was Rupert Murdoch who famously said “Bury your Mistakes”, which is surely a tantalising call for the playwright to dig up some dirt. It’s difficult to watch The Young Tycoons, written first in 2005 without thinking of Keating! The Musical, particularly considering their debut’s were in the same year, and each looked backward with 20/20 hindsight gleaning the best lines and events of particular aspects of Australian public life. In the case of The young Tycoons, this is the third run, quite a space from the second in 2006, but accidentally made very recently relevant with the Packer/Gyngal front page scuffle. The Young Tycoons is not a musical, however its made with the stride and zest of one, as the frenetic energy of Newspaper barons and the fast paced world of inter-dynasty rivalry burst in and out of doors and across the lengthy stage that contains the HQ of each family at either end. It’s all about never pausing to think.

It’s a nice story, the James Packer / Lachlan Murdoch and One-Tel, though I will add that I was waiting for several key moments to be satirically revealed, that for some reason writer CJ Johnson left out of the parody – particularly James crying in Lachlan’s kitchen, ironically the only thing Lachlan could “remember” about the disaster of the One-tel botch up,  but I guess you can’t include everything. It is the story of young gods going to battle, as the lightning and thunder spills out over the rest of us, and the ensuing judgement of the two parental power sources who’ve handed it all down to the next in line. As I was watching and laughing, I found myself secretly grateful for the monarchy, suddenly fearful that in their absence we’d make Royal families of our Packers and Murdochs ah-la Kennedy’s and Rockerfeller’s in the States, so perhaps the monarchs are holding more at bay than we realise? We certainly don’t need to attribute more glory to the overrated self-proclaimed royalty of Australia, so perhaps its a good thing that position remain filled? But on the whole, it’s a way of getting our own back, a use of art and theatre for a little giggly schadenfreude at the expense of those whose privilege is gleaned off our working backs, and who openly don’t give a toss for the misfortunes of others.

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The Young Tycoons is a night of easy happy fun at the theatre, and particularly a very Australian experience. We know this pair better than the rest of the world put together, and no one takes down a tall poppy like ourselves. Of course you can’t publish something like this and use the (in)famous names, so this is a play about the two great newspaper dynasties of “Vogler” and “Warburton”, whose second generation wealthy aging fathers decide its time to give their sons Kim and Trevor the reigns so that they might take over eventually. The young men quickly get together, making their first major business strategy to invest in one of the greatest corporate botch ups Australia has ever seen. Both are immediately a huge disappointment to their fathers, and while Trevor is shipped off to San Francisco (“It’s not New York now, is it Trevor?” Kim reminds him) to work on local rags, Kim deals with his fathers heart attack, takes over properly and sacks the old guard. Director Michael Piggot moves his cast around the stage with intensity and gusto, always giving the impression of a bustling newspaper empire. Katja Handt has given the set a giant wooden wave backdrop that swoops from one “office” to the other, holding two doors midway that Piggot has his cast run through and around, so it always appears the bustle happens between the offices where advice is dished and alcohol drunk in a far more lackadaisical fashion.

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The cast hinges on the four male leads of Ted Vogler (Laurence Coy), Kim Vogler (Edmund Lembke-Hogan), Liam Warburton (John Tunbull) and Trevor Warburton (Andrew Cutcliffe) and fortunately all four performances are great. Coy and Turnbull particularly hold their own, with Coy making the most of the stage to bring a blustering, enormous life to a character we know to be much physically larger than him, and Turnbull bringing some witty vision to his role as the man we know will eventually take over the world. If there is a dim spot to The Young Tycoons, it is the slim female roles. I was reminded of Lucy Prebbles Enron, and the way she managed to bring a great female character to the stage out of the straggling remnants of reportage, and it would have been great to see something similar here. Instead the women are relegated to girlfriends and PA, each woman only contributing because of the man she sleeps with. Still, with what little they have to work with, they are all strong with Gabrielle Scawthorn as Sherilyn Moss, Paige Gardiner as Sally Kilmarten and particularly Briallen Clarke as Kylie Strauss putting in strong performances and making their slight presence felt. Clarke is particularly good at bringing some depth to her role. On the other side of the integrity fence from the tycoons, sit the journalist Dave Grolsch (James Lugton) and the CEO Donald Mayes (Terry Serio) trying to make something of the strange turn of events around them. The rapid pace and fast-moving scenes are bookmarked by Stephen Hawkers lighting that does a slow reveal of “chapter headings” across the back wall, that is often very funny. Murray Jackson’s music is particularly good. making the sophisticated out of the everyday.

The Young Tycoons is great for some nostalgic giggles with enough prophetic insight to tickle at the contemporary and is definitely packed with the laughs that will encourage a fun night at the theatre.

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