The Young Tycoons, a rakish satire about the dog-eat-dog world of Australia’s media magnates, first premiered in 2005 at the old Darlinghurst Theatre; when it returned in 2006 it enjoyed a sold-out run at the same venue. Now the play is back for the third season, this time in Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s new home, the Eternity Playhouse, with an updated script, cast, and staging.
Set in 2003, CJ Johnson’s slick comedy follows two feckless young men from rival families who are on the cusp of inheriting their father’s media empires. Kim Vogler (played for laughs by Edmund Lembke-Hogan) is a slow-witted dunce who is downtrodden and outsmarted by his foul-spoken, roguish dad (Laurence Coy). His nemesis, the debonair, Harvard-educated Trevor Warburton (Andrew Cutcliffe), wears sharp suits and sports snobby language, but these merely serve to disguise a raging ego.
Based, of course, on James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch, The Young Tycoons is a timely revival with the latter now firmly back in the spotlight having just rejoined News Corp as the non-executive co-chairman. While Johnson has kept the action in the early 2000s, he has inserted a new ending – including a punch-up between two spoilt billionaires (written presciently, Johnson has claimed, just days before the Packer-Gyngell Bondi brawl).
Yet those expecting great insights into the lives of the country’s most notorious moguls will be disappointed. This fictionalised riff is not designed as a nuanced portrait. Rather it is a raucous, sometimes slapstick, romp through the corridors of power. At the heart of The Young Tycoons is the oft-repeated adage: “The first generation acquires it; the second generation builds it… and the third generation f**ks it up”.
In this case both sons, eager to prove their worth, leap together into a takeover of a Chinese company (a nod towards the catastrophic One.Tel investment, in which James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch lost more than $900 million combined). In the play, the shares plummet, leading to public derision and questions over the wisdom of keeping business in the family.
The Young Tycoons, however, is really about relationships: between the boys and their socialite girlfriends, bosses and their aides, and fathers and sons. Tracking all the drama is a broadsheet journo, designed to represent the Fairfax press and convincingly portrayed with a world-weary cynicism by James Lugton, who eagerly turns their dynastic excesses of drugs, sex, and squandered fortune into newspaper fodder.
Imaginative use of a simple stage and a few well-placed props, helped by scene titles projected against the wall, effortlessly transforms the setting to include a urinal, bed scene, and a luxury beachside mansion. Confidently directed by Michael Pigott The Young Tycoons rips along at a roaring pace. Holding it back is some two-dimensional storytelling and characters that can slip into caricature. Then again, when dealing with personalities as large as this, a little outrageous lampooning is surely no bad thing.