Everyone owns the air, don’t they? We don’t have the right to sell it…?
Gasp! is written by Ben Elton, stand-up comic, writer of such awesome books as High Society (read it) sitcoms including Blackadder and The Young Ones.
When big mining starts to run out of stuff to dig up, young executive Phillip (Damon Lockwood) is under pressure to perform. He comes up with the bright idea of marketing designer air, free from the unpleasant odours that of everyday life. Of course, it all goes dreadfully wrong and children in Africa begin to suffocate while the rich drink in designer air sucked in from exotic locations.
Gasp! is an update of Elton’s earlier hit Gasping. When I say updated, I mean no-kidding updated, leaving nowhere for contemporary Australia to hide from this – most unforgiving – portrayal of itself.
Apple, Palmer, Packer, Rineheart, Murdoch, PR, Labor, Liberal and the press, from The Australian to the ABC – none are safe from the glare of this most egalitarian mockery.
If you’re too busy to delegate yourself, for God’s sake get someone to do it for you.
In a fabulous scene, Phillip tries to have a serious conversation with new girlfriend Peggy (Lucy Goleby) as the audience giggles madly, watching him take girlish sips from a bucket-sized Starbonks cup. Yes, Starbonks.
I was eagerly awaiting the sets, which did not disappoint. Spare, simple and formed by key pieces of furniture and a screen backdrop, they roll on and off sideways, suggesting by turns an executive office, hospital room, PR-shark office-slash-playroom, cute living room – complete with that most iconic of Australian suburban symbols, the flying ducks – sauna, press briefing room and, cleverest of all, airport travelator.
Changes are rapid and made exciting with effective use of music and the actors’ silhouetted figures.
Lockwood, a hapless hero with a definite air of J. Pierrepont Finch – the whole show is very How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – is an excellent lead, sharp and funny, with an elastic face and seemingly endless capacity to ad-lib over the odd technical difficulty, effortlessly charming the audience.
All the casting, in fact, was spot-on, with each actor fitting their role beautifully.
The Matriarch, my guest for the evening, thought the relationship between Phillip and Peggy a touch stilted, and I had to agree – there lacked a bit of the warmth their innocent courtship could have had, an opportunity to humanise the play a bit more. But this is a minor criticism of a play that proves an incisive critique of Australia’s resources-reliant economy and big businesses, albeit one that never lags or gets preachy.
It’s laugh-out-loud funny throughout, acidic satire tempered with lashings of toilet humour and a smidge of nudity, topped off by a hilariously dotty closing scene.
A great night out and a reminder of how satisfying and energetic contemporary theatre can be.
The production is on at Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA until Sunday 9 November, and then travels to Queensland.
Bookings: ticketek.com.au, 1300 795 012 or in person at venue box office.