An excellent, thoughtful, funny, well-staged play that needed just one more rehearsal.
This is, in fact, a rewrite of Ben Elton’s first professional play, Gasping, and the rewrite seems, by the local and topical references, to have been quite extensive. The basic idea is that a gigantic mining company, Lockheart Resources, is running out of things to mine. Chifley Lockheart (Greg McNeill), the mining magnate with a heart of coal, points out that we’ve sold so much of Australia to China that most of its gone, and holds up a map with the middle cut out to demonstrate this. He delegates the problem to his number one, Sandy (Steven Rooke), and number two, Phillip (Damon Lockwood), that the problem is that they need more resources. Grandstanding Sandy comes up with all sorts of suggestions, but it is Phillip, who has an asthmatic girlfriend, Peggy (Lucy Goleby), who comes up with the one resource we all need; oxygen.
And so the Suck & Blow machine comes into being, from a design in a magazine for asthmatics, and Lockheart Resources goes into the business of producing designer air and, with the help of vampish Kirsten (Caroline Brazier), a PR genius, the business is a roaring success. Pretty soon it snowballs into something much bigger, and resource companies wind up taking and storing all the oxygen on the planet, conserving it for those who can afford to pay for it. Peggy’s death after she’s mugged for her air brings Phillip a serious change of heart, which leads to the play’s denouement, which I won’t tell you for fear of spoiling it.
That’s the skinny on it, and it is a good, funny, topical, moral play. However, comedy relies on timing for its impact, and there were problems with it in this performance, to the point where actors stood waiting for the laughs that didn’t come. Those were, fortunately, the exception rather than the rule, and Elton’s biting wit and had the audience snorting with laughter as one-liner followed one-liner. Topically about Gina Reinhardt and Clive Palmer, with Tony Abbot and Julia Gillard’s arse thrown in for good measure, and irreverently, almost to the point of embarrassment, about Aboriginal culture and land rights.
The set was linear and looked like something from Mad Men, only glossier and brighter, almost to the point of upstaging the cast at times. Set changes were very slick, courtesy of slides that took various bits of scenery in and out, but some of the direction seemed less than slick. There were far too many times when the cast was all in a line downstage, for all the world like a comedy act at a festival. Indeed, it almost seemed possible to see the shades of Blackadder lurking in the wings – which is hardly a criticism – whispering biting comments into the ears of the actors. Sandy seemed particularly inspired by Lord Flashheart from Blackadder Goes Forth when he attempted to seduce the luscious Kirsten, but she wants Number One, Phillip, rather than Number One and a Half.
All the actors were strong, but Damon Lockwood and Greg McNeill stood out in capturing the parts of the ingenuous Phillip and the rapacious Lockheart. The script is mordantly satiric and utterly timely, and I wonder whether Elton will change some of the references from Perth to Brisbane when it goes there in a couple of weeks. An excellent, thoughtful, funny, well-staged play that needed just one more rehearsal.