Paul T. Davies reviews They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, a contemporary update of the farce by Dario Fo and Franca Rame.
It takes a brave theatre to stage a comedy about a cost-of-living crisis during an actual cost-of-living crisis. Originally Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! By Dario Fo and Franca Rame, the Italian political farce is given a contemporary update by adaptor Deborah McAndrew. Refusing to pay the inflated prices in the local shop, the wives, (it’s very gender and role defined this play), steal all the food and essentials and try to hide the goods from their husbands as well as the police. The skills of the company are evident in the fast-paced farcical nature of the play, but the danger is that a show like this will not land in front of the people who should hear its message, and it preaches to the converted. And man, this play preaches. Chunks of rhetoric about our current leaders and the state of the nation sit uneasily alongside groan-inducing jokes and pantomimic asides to the audience and endless, and I mean endless, chasing around the set.
The cast do well with two-dimensional characters, and there are many excellent sequences, (although most of them are in the second half, the first is very stodgy.) Stand out star of the show is Marc Pickering, hilariously switching between multiple characters, giving rise to glorious bits of meta theatre, especially when he breaks out of character and berates the cast for not understanding the demands that multi rolling are placing on him. Without him, the show would miss the mark even more, he is a joy to watch. Joseph Alessi gives a good performance as Jack, the only law-abiding citizen, and Laura Doddington as his wife Anthea, powers the action very well. Jack Shalloo and Tensi Kujore do what they can with the younger, less astute neighbours, but the stereotypes are overwhelming, I just wasn’t convinced.
Director Ryan McBryde plays to his strengths, and there are many tropes now familiar to the Mercury audiences, (slow motion running in haze, breaking the fourth wall, excellent physicality), but now these devices make the production feel rather safe. As a political satire, its bite is not powerful enough. For me this was evidenced by the end, when a rather chilling sequence in which the characters feel they are disappearing and not being heard, would have sent the audience out in a thoughtful mood. However, this is immediately undermined by a final song, with the community chorus, that tries to encourage us to feel good about protesting. Very much a curate’s egg, this is one for fans of farce. Those who want more attack may leave feeling disappointed.
Until 31st March.