Gasp!, now on at QPAC’s Playhouse, leaves you breathless. 

It’s a fast paced, wise-cracking narrative that takes big swipes at mining, marketing and greed.  Not necessarily in that order.  The play is not new; the original version was first performed in 1990, but this is a brand new version and seems more relevant. Ben Elton was asked by Black Swan Theatre’s Kate Cherry to write a play for them. He tried but kept coming back to Gasp!  Now don’t be mistaken, rewriter does not mean updating topical names or changing a few jokes.  It is clear that this is a total revamp – the play is set in Brisbane (presumably changed for each city), the political jokes are current (quite a few jabs at Tony Abbott) as are the nods to contemporary events.  The issues, unfortunately, seem perennial.

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Gasp! is a love story with a conscience.  Phillip (Damon Lockwood) is in love with Peggy (Lucy Coleby) who suffers from all manner of things airborne.  Phillip’s boss (Greg McNeill) at the aptly named Lockheart Industries is looking for the next big thing, given mining has removed all wealth from Australia; Phillip alights on the idea to sell air.  Yes, air – Lockheart can build machines that will recycle air so that all asthma and pollen sufferers can breathe better. It is designed to be the next “must-have” item for those with way too much money.  Enter Kristen (Caroline Brazier), the femme fatale of marketing, who writes a campaign that focuses on the “wrong” type of air getting up everyone’s noses. The marketing is wildly successful, the machines get bigger and bigger and so do the problems associated with air.  Peggy tries to convince Phillip her love is not contingent upon his success and that, in fact, she is dismayed by the invention that makes her life easier.  So the debate rages.

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The play must be a nightmare for actors, as the lines have to be delivered quickly and with aplomb – in fact, there are so many one liners and throwaway barbs that many go whizzing past.  Some of the material is not for the feint hearted – it can be crude in that wink, wink Young Ones kind of way.  And expect to hear echoes of Blackadder – “This is so big it is bigger than…”.  Though a little flabby in parts, the play is thoughtful and well acted; Greg McNeill is outstanding as Chifley Lockheart.  The male costuming is great; the female outfits weren’t as successful. The moving stage is particularly effective and works well with the narrative.

This is the last week for Gasp! and it’s well worth seeing for its penetrating exploration of contemporary Australian issues.

Words – Toni Johnson-Woods