They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, York Theatre Royal: Review

By Michelle Rawlins

Northern Broadside have done a superb job of adapting Dario Fo’s 1970’s Italian political farce and transporting it to Brexit Britain.

Relocated to a concrete tower block in northern England, They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! confronts a very real and hard done-by working class, where the upper hierarchy of society live in a state of luxury, while those at the bottom only just survive in an unbreakable cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Adapted by the award winning Deborah McAndrew, she is astutely aware, although the political unrest of 1974 Italy is vastly different to modern day Britain, the effects on the poor are frighteningly similar. Three decades may have passed and this may be another part of Europe, but the dissatisfaction with modern day society is not so different.

The play opens as a local Aldi is being looted. Customers are refusing to pay the latest hike in prices and instigate a riot. Anthea, played by the extremely talented Lisa Howard, is already months behind in her rent, gas and electric and despite knowing how much her highly moralistic husband will be appalled, joins the rebellious crowd, fills her shopping bags and hot foots it home with her haul.

There she recruits her normally law abiding neighbour, Maggie (Suzanne Ahmet) and what follows is a series of ridiculous, but extremely amusing, blunders, including several farcical run-ins with the police, a fake pregnancy and the absconding of a coffin all in a bid to hide the stolen groceries – well at least those that escape the somewhat suspect bird seed broth.

It’s quick witted, fast paced, action packed, and although it occasionally spirals out of control to the bemusement of the audience, you can’t take away the comical genius that this plays executes perfectly. This is demonstrated most clearly by the frantic character changing policemen – played by Michael Hugo – who along with losing his stick-on moustache, swaps between being a secret socialist to a strict straight down the line sergeant.

Every scene is enveloped by a long list of one liners, that occasionally leaves the five-person cast, falling over their words but that doesn’t distract from the real meaning of the plot.

Although this highly entertaining production for the stage has a sense of the ridiculous, it poignantly and somewhat accurately highlights the fact that far too many in today’s society are living on the breadline, reliant on food banks, terrified of what Brexit will bring and hugely sceptical of the next political decision.

It’s certainly a political farce, more because it is acutely accurate of today’s shocking state of affairs, and one that is on the nose when it comes to deftly demonstrating the very real problems many face today.

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Photos by Nobby Clark

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