‘Gasp!’ comes from the unfailing pen of Britain’s number one comedy playwright, the man responsible for the legendary ‘Mr Bean’ and the ‘The Young Ones’, Ben Elton. This highly intelligent, satirical play was originally called ‘Gasping’, and first produced in 1990 at the Royal Haymarket in London’s West End. Written at the tender age of 31 yrs. this was Elton’s very first play and starred Hugh Laurie. It ran for an amazing year and a half. Now a Freo resident, Ben Elton has rewritten the play’s main storyline basing it in Australia during the resources boom; he then renamed it ‘Gasp!’
‘Gasp’ is a joint presentation from the Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company. This two-hour ten minute, dark humour production can be seen at the Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 182 William Street, Northbridge each evening at 7.30 until Sunday 9th November. The production then travels to Queensland.
The set is a large modern office, with high ceiling and shiny floor, painted to match the very pale grey walls. The rear of the room has a massive window overlooking the city. This window with ingenious projection (projection AV designers, Optikal Bloc) turns into numerous styles and venues, including wallpaper, curtains, plants, and security blinds.
The set and costume designer, Christina Smith and her associate, Penny Challen, have come up with something that I have not seen before. The slick scene changes seem to take place with the aid of a travelator (like the moving pavements in airports). Then there was the ‘fan’tastic wall. Very clever designing.
When the heartless mercenary, Australian mining company boss, Chifley Lockheart (Greg McNeill) announces to his team that his mining business is running out of resources, they must come up with a completely new idea to save the company.
No new ideas seem to be forthcoming until the junior executive, caring wimpish Phillip (Damon Lockwood) is called to the hospital bedside of his shy, rather plain girlfriend, Peggy (Lucy Goleby). Severely ill, she is on oxygen and really struggling with asthma due to the air pollution. Phillip suddenly realises that ‘designer air’ could be the answer. Clean filtered oxygen, stored until you need it.
When Phillip takes the suggestion to the boardroom, the supercilious senior executive, the answer to every girl’s sexual prayer, Sandy (Steven Rooke) mocks Phillip. However, Chifley takes the fresh air idea to his head of marketing, the ambitious ball-breaker, Kirsten (Caroline Brazier). NOTHING will stop Kirsten and her ambitions.
Can Kirsten do anything with the original idea? Can the company make money from such a simple commodity?
Director, Wesley Enoch and his associate, Daniel Evans have chosen the perfect cast for this madcap humour. Very few directors would have been capable of seeking out the humour in every line, and then showing the cast how to squeeze the most out of the absurdity.
Damon Lockwood, who recently proved himself in ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’, once more excels. Damon’s style of delivery is wonderful, he can look like a lost child and seconds later be giving a bold complex recitation.
Major Equity Award winner, Greg McNeill, has been admired over the years for his straight dramatic acting, but here he gives us a new side to his talents, wacky comedy. Not just a simple joke or aside here and there, but Greg has the special skill that Groucho Marx comedy demanded and Ben Elton’s characters require, a dry bold delivery, with precise dialogue. Queensland’s award winning actor, Steven Rooke is a new face to WA, but his chemistry with the other actors was superb. Caroline Brazier’s delivery was pan faced, but extremely funny as the ambitious bitch. Lucy Goleby’s soft, loving part brought the much-needed respite from the rich, rapid-fire lines of the comics. A great team.
The lighting design by Trent Suidgeest was electrifying and dramatic. With the set designers, he convincingly turned one venue into another within seconds. The sound design by Tony Brumpton was at its best on the office lockdown – superb.
Leave your political correctness at the theatre door, and enjoy the zany, fast-paced humour in the style of Elton’s ‘Blackadder’ that we all loved so much. No political party or famous executive is safe as Elton peels off the bulls*** and gets straight to the point. Satire is often subtle; here the writer just nails ‘the establishment’ to the wall. The script will leave you asking ‘did he really say that?’, but you will only pause for a second before the next onslaught of laugh aloud comedy hits you. A theatre master showing us that he still has his touch.