There is an inordinate amount of huffing and puffing in Isfahan Calling, Philip de Gouveia’s new play about a covert radio propaganda exercise in the desert. The idea is to discredit the regime in Tehran and demoralise Iranian army units across the border.

But the situation becomes fraught with complexity and personal antagonisms as it emerges that the participants each have a different reason for involvement on the mission, and the internal squabbles are overtaken by the coalition forces launching a pre-emptive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.

New recruit Zahra (Zahra Ahmadi), who is set on a course of revenge for the exile of her parents during the 1979 revolution, throws herself enthusiastically into the war effort, and director Kelly Wilkinson winds up the tension, and the decibel level, to create a scary atmosphere of bitterness, rivalry and laying claim to the moral high ground.

Philip de Gouveia is a freelance policy researcher and journalist who has reported on transnational crime issues and illegal drugs trade. He has a real talent for constructing argument but seems incapable, so far at least, of transforming speech into signals of character or spiritual revelation.

The cast do their best to animate the shouting match with signs of intelligent life, but it’s an uphill struggle. Paul McEwan as the operations leader Roy does have a journey of sorts to make in his bullying authoritarianism, and the project’s tactics erupt catastrophically when he makes a devastatingly ill-judged broadcast. But the climax is crudely melodramatic and ill prepared, and the conclusion virtually incomprehensible.

The Old Red Lion’s small square space has been convincingly transformed by designer Becky Gunstone into an impersonal operations centre and recording studio, and the dedicated cast list is made up by Richard Ings, Matthew Ashforde, Rebecca Keatley and Avi Nassa. De Gouveia crated a few waves with his first play, The Six Wives of Timothy Leary, but this time out he’s perhaps marking time for a bigger splash.

- Michael Coveney