Every once in a while a show comes along that will stay with you for a long time. Ben Elton’s satirical work Gasp! is one such show. It’s little wonder that this show has stood the test of time and still holds as much relevance as it did when it was first developed for London audiences 25 years ago.
Now, thanks to a collaboration with Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland State Theatre Company, the play has received a new lease on life and has been rewritten for Australian audiences. The satire provides both political comment and social critique in sharp-witted and hilarious fashion.
Lockheart Industries is an Australian mining company with profits so healthy they can’t be contained on one graph. Yet its capitalist leader Sir Chiffley Lockheart (Greg McNeill) is worried. He’s seen the writing on the wall, Australia’s finite resources are running out and all the tax evasion in the world won’t save him from losing money. He calls on his top people, the ambitious, sharp-tongued yuppie Sandy (Steven Rooke) and Sandy’s direct report, the lovable Phillip (Damon Lockwood), to come up with the next big idea that will make the company millions.
Later, having opted not to pull an all-night brain storming session with Sandy, Phillip visits his friend Peggy (Lucy Goleby) who has suffered an asthma attack and is in hospital. With romantic designs on her, he longs to be worthy of her love and suddenly receives the inspiration he needs. What if he could produce “designer air,” air so clean that people like Peggy could breathe easy?
Much to the disdain of Sandy, Phillip manages to deliver his revolutionary idea to Lockheart, a piece of equipment that produces clean air, the ‘Suck n Blow.’ Lockheart is overjoyed! In no time at all they are collecting a free resource, manufacturing a new must-have air purifying machine and selling it to the masses. Suddenly Phillip is 2IC and feeling worthy enough he wins Peggy’s heart and life is rosy.
But then consumers get greedy, everyone is storing too much air, suddenly air is getting thinner and sales of ‘Suck n Blow’ are declining. Lockheart needs to do something fast and then another brilliant idea hits him, he’ll privatise the air industry and people will have to pay through the nose for something that used to be free. Before long people are suffocating to death because they can’t afford the inflated air prices the mining conglomerates are manipulating.
This show is aptly named, it will certainly leave you gasping for air with all the laughing and sometimes at the shock of some of the politically incorrect lines. Elton is a master of satire, he pokes fun at the mining industry and uses humour to criticise the industry for all its greed and excess. We identify with the show because it’s not so far from the truth: in some ways it’s scary. We are bombarded daily with stories of climate change, loss of natural resources and extinction of animals, so maybe a world where air is thin on the ground is not so crazy after all?
The amazing script is supported by an outstanding cast and crew and the result is a first-class production. The show is well-cast and the direction inspired. Comic timing is impressive and there are no weak links. It’s hard to single out a favourite amongst the cast but Damon Lockwood’s portrayal of Phillip is polished and as expected he gives another solid performance in this show. I loved the casting of Greg McNeill as Chiefly Lockheart, he’s so believable as the mining magnate that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been shadowing Andrew Forrest or Clive Palmer and partaking in a bit of method acting for months.
I can’t fail to mention the quality of the set which was so cleverly designed. The set is built to function like a giant light box and features a rear projection screen on the back wall which is used to excellent effect. The floor has built in sliding conveyor belts that impressively move the sets and actors smoothly from one scene to another. All-in-all this adds a futuristic feel which is perfectly suited to the sleek and ultra-modern interiors of the Lockheart offices.
Peggy’s retro-inspired, urban hipster home provides a complete juxtaposition to the Lockheart skyscraper and gives a nod to the upcoming conflict that will soon transpire between Peggy and Phillip.
Christina Smith, set and costume designer, uses costumes in the same way she’s built the sets to show differences in the outlooks and motivations of her characters. Peggy’s retro outfits are in stark contrast to the designer clothes of the other cast members. If I had one criticism of the show it would be that marketing executive Kirsten’s overall appearance seemed unkempt and less polished than I would have expected of a high-powered business woman. Although I knew that Smith was going for a tailored look, her costumes seemed more home sewn than designer. Kirsten, played by Caroline Brazier, seemed unstable on her clunky high-heels and one of the peplums on her top appeared so out of place I wondered if it was as about to be removed and used for some ulterior motive.
Gasp! is a triumph of wit, delivered with style and panache. The comedy is fast-paced and delightful. It will have you laughing in your seats and no one is safe from Elton’s digs least of all Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer.
Pardon the pun but Gasp! is like a breath of fresh air!