Update 25 May, 2020: Times are tough right now, so a feisty play about being in financial struggle-town resonates. Sadly Marieke Hardy’s Sydney Theatre Company adaptation of Dario Fo’s No Pay? No Way!, staged at the Opera House, was closed early, but the ferociously funny work will be reborn online as the latest show to enjoy the live reading treatment, as part of Sydney Theatre Company Virtual.
The cast – including Helen Thomson, Catherine Văn-Davies, Glenn Hazeldine, Rahel Romahn and Aaron Tsindos – will reunite from their living rooms, as directed by Sarah Giles. You can catch it at 7.30pm, Thursday 28 May, with tickets available from the Sydney Theatre Company website for a ‘pay what you can’ price of $0, $5, $10, $15, $20 or $25.
Our reviewer Ben Neutze said:
What do you do when you’re almost completely broke – can’t afford to pay your rent, your electricity bill, your gas – and basic groceries are suddenly out of your price range? Do you accept your fate? Do you starve, forced into poverty by a system in which the rich get richer? Or do you defy that system and demand what you need to survive?
Sadly for many people living in Australia in the 21st century – where wealth inequality has grown sharply over more than a decade – this question isn’t hypothetical. It’s also the question at the centre of No Pay? No Way!, Marieke Hardy’s adaptation of Dario Fo’s 1974 farce Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! (commonly given the English title Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!) a ferociously funny piece of political theatre.
When we first meet Antonia (Helen Thomson), she’s just stumbled home with a swag of assorted groceries (including dog food, despite her having no dog). She reveals to her friend and neighbour Margherita (Catherine Van-Davies) that when she arrived at her local store earlier in the day, she discovered that management had doubled the price of every item. In retaliation, she and a group of angry housewives started a riot, demanding the price hike be reversed, and ended up “liberating” some choice items for themselves.
The only problem is that Antonia’s husband Giovanni (Glenn Hazeldine) has just returned home from work early and, despite his passionate unionism, he’s a stickler for rules and maintaining the system. The idea of his wife being involved in something like a lawless revolt completely undermines his fight for workers’ rights.
So, Antonia and Margherita find themselves doing all they can to hide the groceries. When Giovanni notices Margherita’s bulging coat, he assumes she’s pregnant – although somehow her husband Luigi (Rahel Romahn) is completely unaware – and things only get worse when the police show up to their flats searching for the pilfered groceries.
Under Hardy’s adaptation and Sarah Giles’ direction, this is an expertly executed farce, in which the stakes continue to rise as Antonia’s deception becomes greater and greater. The dialogue is full of life and there’s rarely a moment across the entire two acts where the laughs stop (until the final scene, in which we’re reminded of the seriousness of the play’s subject matter). There’s physical comedy to rival anything you’d see on TV’s greatest farce, Fawlty Towers, and extraordinarily fast-moving dialogue in which Antonia proves herself to be an endlessly resourceful liar with a penchant for creative storytelling.
The production is blessed with a first-rate cast of Sydney theatre’s best comedic players. Regulars at Sydney Theatre Company will already be acutely aware of Helen Thomson’s particular talents, but rarely are they put to use in such a vigorous way. It’s an enormous undertaking across the play’s two and a half hour running time, and her performance is extraordinarily precise, never missing a beat.
She’s well supported by Catherine Van-Davies who has never been funnier than she is here, in full-on clown mode, as sweet Margherita, who grows over the course of the play and finds her own voice. As the hapless husbands, Glenn Hazeldine and Rahel Romahn are superb bumbling fools. They might not understand much about women’s bodies – or really the reality of their situation – but by the end of the play they’re fighting exactly the same battles as their wives.
The cast is rounded out by the excellent Aaron Tsindos, who finds himself ducking in and out of designer Charles Davis’s impressively detailed set in a number of different guises, as a series of characters who become more heightened and absurd in their mannerisms as the play goes on.
Hardy has really mined Fo’s play for all that it has to say politically and amplified what it has to say about the way that working-class bodies – particularly women’s bodies – are controlled by the state. It’s deeply disturbing, and were it not for the laughs, a lot of this play’s action would be difficult to stomach.
There’s also one big directorial choice in the second act which shifts the way that we see the action entirely to brilliant theatrical effect. We wouldn’t want to spoil it, but it’s a masterstroke – totally in keeping with Fo’s intent, hysterically funny, and a reminder of just how much this play is about the world we’re living in.