Gasp! | Queensland Theatre CompanyLeft – Damon Lockwood and Lucy Goleby. Cover – Damon Lockwood, Greg McNeill and Steven Rooke. Photos – GaryMarsh Photography

With his trademark mix of sly metaphor and sarcastic humour, Ben Elton’s satirical offering Gasp!, now showing at QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre for QTC, both delights and demands attention from audiences.

Funny, clever, and slightly off-beat, these are all the things we’ve come to expect from the masterful writing of Ben Elton. In this reworking of his 90s play Gasping, Elton has drawn from the current Australian political and news climate to create a text with enough name drops and pop culture references to comfortably fill the two hour playing time alone, inserting these into a story of such clever simplicity that the satirical meaning could be lost on no man.

What does big Australian mining do when it has run out of resources to pull from the ground? It finds a new resource to mine, of course, and this time, it’s air. This is the hypothetical but not at all unrealistic premise of Gasp!, which is told through the eyes of five characters and their connections to Lockheart Industries, the company leading the way in the privatisation of air.

The five actors playing these characters attack Elton’s text with vigour, effortlessly shelling out the one-liners and references, and committing to the stereotypes portrayed within their roles in an effort to uncover a deeper truth hidden in such a recognisable picture of Australian society. Their movements are deliberate and crisp, and it is clear that careful work has been done with director Wesley Enoch to create such precise performances. There were moments on opening night when the dialogue could have been pacier, the performers waiting for or talking through laughs that they will grow used to during the season. Occasionally, an actor would let out a wry smile following a particularly humorous line, and while it is always great to see actors enjoying their work (and who wouldn’t be thrilled to work with Elton’s text?) it did crack open the veneer of effortlessness which seems to have been the vision for at least the first half of the piece. All in all, though, the performers bring the text to life with energy and immediacy, and are highly engaging and entertaining.

Both the directorial and design visions match the simplicity of the text, bringing all the elements together as one to mirror the smooth operations of Lockheart Industries as they are played out in the story. The most extravagant feature of the set is the wall to wall screen which creates the backdrop to the stage, upon which excellent work by audiovisual artists optikal bloc is used to seamlessly create the larger outside world of the play. The show is slick in all facets, as easy on the eyes as on the ears, and it really is a pleasure to watch.

There is a fine line to walk in satire between being too entertaining or too educational, however Elton achieves both in Gasp!. While it encourages the audience to laugh and joke, revelling in the innocence and evilness of the characters on stage, it also shines an unwavering light on the society in which we are all, to varying degrees, complicit in creating. It should not be overlooked that Gasp!, while immensely enjoyable, also contains a message that is growing in relevance, so much so that over a decade after its first rendition it tells an increasingly topical story. Elton has done so well to create a show to speak to Australian audiences; of course it is harder to measure if they will listen.

Gasp! is great, on all levels. It is funny, it is thought-provoking, and with Elton’s distinctive voice, it is quite unlike most other main stage shows which have played this year. Gasp! is an excellent way to cap off a year of theatre, and with a season sitting at just over a fortnight, tickets will not last long.

Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company present
by Ben Elton

Directed by Wesley Enoch

Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Dates: 17 Nov – 7 Dec 2014