Ben Elton has been on my “I need to check him out properly” list for years. I’ve got about four of his books on the bookshelf that I picked up from beachside second hand stores but I’ve never actually gotten around to reading them.
So naturally, I jumped at the chance to see Elton’s Gasp! when the review opportunity came across the Brisbane Threads desk. Gasp! is actually a rewritten version of his first stage production, Gasping. I thought this must be a good sign – terrible things don’t get revisited, do they?
The rewrite sets the production in Australia, where greedy mining company Lockheart Industries is searching for a new resource to capitalise on now that our wide brown land has been completely stripped of coal. Some bright spark comes up with the idea of harvesting oxygen, purifying it and then selling it as a premium product to the world’s wheezy asthmatics and sneezy allergy sufferers. Unsurprisingly, corporate greed soon kicks in with major consequences for all the oxygen breathers out there – if you want to breathe, you’ve got to pay. Reads like a page out of some kombucha-drinking, Greens-voting leftie’s nightmare journal, right?
Gasp! explores some pretty big themes – greed, corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability, the onus on individual consumers – but it does so deftly. It’s still really good entertainment, not some Michael Moore or Inconvenient Truth style lecture-mentary. (That’s a portmanteau of lecture and documentary that I will be trademarking as soon as I finish this review).
This is helped by the fact that Gasp! is very funny. Elton has managed to write almost every current trend and issue into the script. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he actually worked with the writing team from Mad As Hell. If you’re not into those current affairs-y jokes, there’s also a part where an older gent shows his bum. So yeah, it pretty much caters to everyone.
If you’re a theatre buff, I guess you’ll want to know about the individual performances, set design, lighting design, media design and all that other theatre-type stuff, right? Good, good, good and good, as far as I can tell with my limited experience. Want more detail than that? Well, go find yourself a real theatre review blog then, chum!
Gasp! was great. The jokes were funny, the plot was engaging and the actors did good acting. It was actually so entertaining that I’m going to put the brakes on Game of Thrones and pull one of those Ben Elton books off the shelf. He’s earned my attention.
For the record, I would also like to note that I planned to title this review “Theatre Production Gasping At Straws” if the production was bad. It’s kind of a shame they did such a great job, hey?
Gasp! is a joint production of Queensland Theatre Company and Western Australia’s Black Swan State Theatre Company, written by Ben Elton and directed by Wesley Enoch. The production is showing at QPAC Playhouse until 7 Dec 2014. Tickets available for purchase here.