With a sharp and clever script by Ben Elton that oozes with dark humour, Gasping perfectly walks the line between brilliantly funny and unexpectedly compelling in a story of corporate greed and human suffering.
William de Coverly plays Philip, the overly charismatic businessman, who along with his long-suffering second Sandy (Gabriel Thomson) is challenged by boss Sir Chiffley Lockhart (Michael Jayes) to invent a way of making a profit where nothing existed before. What could have been a dreary conversation to establish this context was instead a fantastic and fast paced opening scene that immediately captured the rapt attention of its audience, which was maintained unwaveringly throughout the entire play. The cast is completed by Skevy Stylia’s dynamic portrayal of advertising queen Kirsten, and Emily Beach as the sole ensemble member with an admirable ability to play multiple characters each with faultless conviction that distinguished every single one.
A small, intimate setting combined with the incredible stage presence of the entire cast allowed them to command the room with comfortable ease. The minimal staging and props were hardly noticeable as the incredible use of mime along with sound and lighting cues combined to make every setting completely believable. The entire space was utilised excellently, using every entrance and exit between the audience’s chairs to make the small venue feel far larger.
While these characters are all caricatures to an extent, every actor has perfected the balance needed to make these exaggerated people not only believable but likeable too. The line delivery is impeccable, something necessary for such a fast paced and word-heavy script with many complicated phrases, and the occasional slip ups were corrected in a fashion perfectly in character that didn’t break the moment and left them hardly noticeable. Every scene showcases the faultless comedic timing and physicality of all five actors, drawing frequent hearty laughter that keeps the atmosphere light as the plot shifts at the perfect pace to become ever darker.
For a story with such a comedic tone overlying the plot and packed so full of sly innuendos, it comes to a jarring and unexpected conclusion that left the auditorium in stunned silence. There is a growing sense of horror as the closing scene unfolds, emphasised both by the foreboding lighting and staging choice as Jayes and de Coverly mark out their battleground on an otherwise empty stage. The use of video clips as the final note ties this play perfectly into the issues faced by mankind currently, translating the storyline into today’s real life context and leaving the audience with one haunting question; is it right to make a profit for some from the suffering of others?
A witty and brutally honest tale that holds no punches, Gasping is truly a show for the present day.