Ben Elton was in Brisbane for a flying visit to 4101. Twenty-four hours after flying in from London, he’s spent a day working with Queensland Theatre Company cast and crew who are rehearsing Gasp!. We had time for a quick catch up at the QTC.
Surprisingly, few people ask Elton to write something for them. So he was flattered when Black Swan Theatre Company’s Kate Cherry asked him to write an Aussie play. He thought long and hard about a new play. Living in Fremantle, for the past five years, he has been part of the cultural conversation circulating around the resources “boom”. Talk of fly in/fly out, Gina Rinehart, and the effects of mining on the environment kept dragging him back to the themes he explored two decades ago in Gasping – Gasp! is the result.
Without giving too much away, Gasp! is a satire exploring the world of excessive marketing and corporate greed. You know the saying “air is free”? Well Lockheart Industries decides that free air is a lost money-making opportunity. Enter Suck and Blow, a machine that sucks in natural air and blows out “filtered” air. Thanks to clever marketing, it is an instant success and sales soar. But what about the consequences to the environment and to people? As can be imagined, the play explores the issues with sharp humour and biting wit.
For those who haven’t heard of Elton (gasp!), he is a comedian, actor, novelist, lyricist—oh, the list just goes on and on. He has written for television (The Young Ones, Blackadder, Mr Bean), theatre (We Will Rock You), film (Maybe Baby). He seems proudest of his 14 novels and is humbled to think that people read them. Certainly a lot of people have read them as many are best-sellers. He claims to have written more novels than he’s read – but I don’t believe him. When I asked him if anyone has written a PhD on his oeuvre, he seemed genuinely surprised. I, on the other hand, am surprised that someone hasn’t. Modesty aside, his talent is recognised in the plethora of awards he’s won.
“Working with QTC’s Wesley Enoch and cast has been inspiring,” says Elton. He admires Enoch’s talent and has nothing but praise for the actors. He shakes his head in awe at their dedication – something many of us theatregoers take for granted.
Though rehearsals are in Brisbane, it will open in Perth before it returns to Brisbane for a run from 20 November until 7 December.
Words by Toni Johnson-Woods