If you enjoy satirical comedy and have ever wondered what might lie ahead if mining corporations in Australia eventually dug up and exported the country's entire minerals resources, then Gasp is a play you should not miss. The scenario of a mined-out Australia is the point of departure in this witty, dark, fast moving play written by internationally acclaimed author and comedian, Ben Elton. It is adaptation by Elton of his own first play Gasping, which originally featured Hugh Laurie and was performed in London almost twenty five years ago. Presented by a combined cast of Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) and Western Australia's Black Swan State Theatre Company, under the direction of Wesley Enoch (Artistic Director QTC), this new play premiered at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC on Thursday 20 November.
The opening scene of the play takes the audience to the stylish headquarters of the mining giant, Lockheart Industries. Here their larger than life CEO 'the Chief' (Greg McNeill) is animatedly brain storming with his two aspiring underlings Sam (Steven Rooke) and Phillip (Damon Lockwood). Their dialogue, delivered with superb timing, is a hilarious mixture of suggestive humor and satirical observations of the Australian corporate world. The pressure is on Phillip and Sam to come up with a bold and visionary marketing idea to ensure Lockheart Industries can continue to thrive and survive when there are no more minerals left to be mined in Australia.
The play gathers momentum as Phillip, inspired by breathing difficulties of asthma-prone girlfriend Peggy (Lucy Goleby), comes up the idea of selling clean air by manufacturing and marketing the 'Blow and Suck' machine. The Chief loves it, promotes Phillip and engages PR consultant and veritable tigress Kirsten (Caroline Brazier). Her self-interest and capacity to manipulate unleashes much cutting humour upon Phillip and Sam. It is even more pronounced in the biting sarcasm with which Kirsten attacks Peggy to prevent her engagement to Philip and which left the audience cringing.
Elton spares the audience with no relief from the cut and thrust of the corporate world as we watch the Chief, Phillip, Sam and Kristen driven to greater and more amusing heights to promote the 'Blow and Suck' machine. They aim to convince themselves and others, via familiar-sounding corporate propaganda, that selling such machines is a community service. However, this whirlwind of hype conveyed with conviction by the cast becomes unhinged by the growing reality that the Lockheart technological 'advance' is sucking up the oxygen supply for all humankind. Global news reports parodying the television news show those without the means to purchase 'Blow and Suck' machines, including ultimately Peggy, are left to gasp and to a grim fate. In the final scene we see Phillip end the madness of corporate contradictions he has championed in a darkly humorous manner.
Gasp's fast-paced take on a superficial but powerful corporate world is carried not only by the actors' humorous and lively delivery of Elton's inspiring script. It is also supported very effectively by the well-crafted lighting effects and use of large and colourful rear-projected images as well as sliding props which were moved effortlessly on and off the stage throughout the play. Overall, it is a funny and hard hitting play with much wit, energy and contemporary relevance for Australian audiences which should be seen during its current season at QPAC.