The old business adage makes a claim about great empires: The first generation acquires it, the second builds it and the third loses it. This forms the basis of The Young Tycoons, a new play by local playwright Christopher Johnson, set among the world of the new generation of media tycoons inheriting the great Australian empires. For the Vogler family, think Kerry and James Packer. For the Warburton clan, think Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch.
The machinations of these families and their various manipulations of their empires and each other, not to mention their respective girlfriends, media bosses and others powerbrokers, set the scene. Johnson’s plot skirts along the fine line of fact and fiction, with healthy doses of the real lives of the above-mentioned media players providing the twists and turns, not to mention the inclusion of a few juicy rumours familiar to Sydney’s social scene.
The play sets out to examine if this third generation will indeed lose the empires. It almost comes true as the two young media bosses invest in a shaky IT enterprise that goes horribly wrong and their fathers are forced to pull them out of the mess. Following all of this is a journalist from a third media empire (think Fairfax), who comments on what the new players are doing with their empires in such grand, but flawed, ways.
The play attempts to tackle huge characters, and therein lies the biggest challenge. These characters are based on such well-known people, so dynamic interactions are really needed to carry two hours of drama. The extent of these relationships extend to the Vogler mogul being a gruff, foul-mouthed larrikin with a dim-witted son, while his Warburton counterpart is a cold-hearted, ruthless figure with a smarter son. The girlfriends are shallow and vain, while the media spin doctor is an unenthusiastic player caught up in the machinations. These people are fascinating subjects, but far from being charming company. Certain innuendos about the personal proclivities of the real-life people make it into the action of the characters, and that comes across as salacious and unnecessary rather than a revealing insight about them. It also has to be said that the lame ending is a convenient, one-joke way out rather than a satisfactory conclusion. It is about the only dud spot in an otherwise good night of drama.
David Ritchie and Peter Kowitz both present strong performances as the media moguls, with Jonathan Gavin particularly good as the Murdoch-styled heir apparent. Playwright Johnson is also effective as the journalist. Of the women, Rebekah Moore as the publicist is given the most to work with and comes across the best. Michael Pigott’s direction is fast and he makes the most of his cast and the limitations of Darlinghurst Theatre space. The Young Tycoons is a clever idea and, in its world premiere season, is well-presented and an admirable addition to Johnson’s credits as a playwright.
The Young Tycoons is on at Darlinghurst Theatre until Saturday 1 October. Bookings: 8356 9987