Ben Elton’s latest satirical offering Gasp! is also his first stage production, and not only is Perth lucky to be the first audience to see it, but to also have a starring role.
But don’t be too flattered; remember we’re at the hands of Ben Elton’s caustic wit. And boy, does he nail it with every quick witted quip taking a swipe at our mining boom, the advertising industry and a few well-placed digs at the Minogue sisters, the Kardashians, Tony Abbott and James Packer. Ironically, mining giant Rio Tinto is the Black Swan State Theatre Company’s principal partner. With flawless comical timing and jammed packed with gags the pace is frenetic from start to finish.
Played by Greg McNeill, Chiffley Lockheart (take a guess at who this could be) of Lockheart Mining, aka Chief, has only two skills: inheriting mining companies and avoiding taxes. So when he runs out of resources, his number three Phillip (Damon Lockwood) in an attempt to out-do his number two, Sandy (Steven Rooke) devises the ingenious idea of creating designer air with the invention of air filtering machine Suck and Blow. Inspired by his asthma-ridden girlfriend Peggy (Lucy Goleby), she is the moral compass which causes Phillip endless conflict, especially when the man-eating advertising guru Kirsten (Caroline Brazier) spins her web.
With statements like “If you can’t make a profit without selling your soul then you shouldn’t be in business,” what could possibly go wrong? I won’t spoil it but Ben Elton pushes the envelope, possibly too far judging from the nervous reactions to certain jokes. I wasn’t personally offended; how can you be when he speaks the harsh truth? Besides, his success is largely due to his controversial take on life. Gasp! Is a rewrite of his original screenplay from 25 years ago named Gasping and set in corporate Britain. Adapted for Perth, this rewrite couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. After all, is the concept of oxygen as a commodity really that far-fetched? Isn’t there already a multi-billion dollar enterprise for bottled water which freely falls from the sky? Think about it: haven’t we been saturated with advertising about the health benefits of drinking at least two litres of water a day?
I attended a preview performance and there were some technical issues with the retro-inspired sliding props, which I found it all the more hilarious thanks to Damon Lockwood’s exceptional improv skills.
Gasp! Is collaboration between the Queensland Theatre Company and the Black Swan State Theatre Company and plays at the Heath Ledger Centre State Theatre Centre of WA until Sunday 9th November before heading to Brisbane 17th November to 7 December.
Left gasping for more? Sorry, it had to be said at least once. Here’s my interview with Greg McNeill.
Watch for the release of Ben Elton’s latest novel on 15th November. It explores the idea that World War 1 could have been averted and named Time and Time Again it’s timely given the ANZAC Centenary.