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19th May 2023

Review: No Pay? No Way!

No Pay? No Way!, a contemporary retelling of Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, is a raw reflection of reality that has you laughing through the pain
Review: No Pay? No Way!
Katherine Pearce and Samantha Power. Photo: Johan Persson

I was very intrigued by No Pay? No Way! It’s a contemporary retelling of Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, it’s a sociopolitical satire about our current socioeconomic situation, and it’s got the most funky set, complete with a slide that comes right down from the upper tier!

No Pay? No Way! had its world premiere in Sydney, Australia back in 2020, just before the world shut down. Now, it’s been revived at the Royal Exchange Theatre. A city with a colourful history of radical politics, Manchester is the perfect place to host the UK premiere.

The musical begins with Antonia (Samantha Power – the actress not the ambassador!) arriving home and informing her friend, Margherita (Katherine Pearce), that the groceries at their local shop have doubled in price – so she and the other housewives raided the store! It’s quite the beginning to a play. The women’s husbands – Giovanni (Roger Morlidge) and Luigi (Gurjeet Singh), respectively – are sticklers for the rules so Antonia needs Margherita’s help hiding the stolen goods. Antonia has Margherita hide some of the items down her coat.

When Giovanni comes home, Margherita makes a quick escape, but it’s enough time for Giovanni to notice her larger size. When he comments on her weight, Antonia, thinking on the spot, tells him that she is pregnant. Giovanni is flabbergasted, for Margherita and Luigi never wanted children. He continues to ask questions and Antonia gives the most ridiculous answers, digging herself a deeper whole (a convention of farce). And so on.

Giovanni, though tired of the corrupt government and sick of the suffering, is a stickler for the rules. He’s a proud union member. He’s a textbook liberal; he’s not a radical. He worries that by breaking the law, citizens are playing into the governments’ handbook; the government will only enact harsher laws, and they’re being given a reason to continue banning protests (an acknowledgement of what is happening in the UK).

The play masterfully explores competing ideologies. It allows you to appreciate different viewpoints but urges you to understand why breaking laws enacted by corrupt leaders might be necessary. The play manages to do all this through comedy. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much at a play. This is not just a funny play; it’s a laugh-out-loud funny play. LOL!

It is delightfully silly but deadly serious, and the creatives must be applauded for that balance. At times, the play’s politics feel a little muted by all the messing around, but without the fun, the play would just be devastating, for it is a reflection of current times. The play allows us to laugh through the pain – our pain.

The stage design is striking. It’s a landscape of pipes and tube; an industrial wasteland. It seems to be a metaphor for the characters being stuck in the system. The set is not grey and brown, however. Rather, it’s multi-coloured and neon – a perfect metaphor for consumerism and capitalism. The issue with this ambiguous, metaphoric and futuristic setting – unlike the original production, which was much more naturalistic – is it renders the play’s problem hypothetical, when, in actuality, it is a raw reflection of reality.

Every single actor in the cast deserves applause. The chemistry between the two bumbling men is hilarious. There’s some excellent physical comedy when the men mime a run on an imaginary conveyor belt.

Power is brilliant in the lead role of Antonia, right from the second she steps foot onstage, with Margherita helping her with her shopping, i.e. Margherita carrying everything and Antonia not carrying a damn thing! Margherita is by no means feeble but she does not have the same strength and will to lie as Antonia; she is more fearful of consequences – heck, she appears to be the only woman in the neighbourhood who has not ransacked the supermarket. However, the end of the play sees her let loose; she cannot take it anymore. She makes her feelings about the government and society known in a passionate speech, and Pearce’s delivery is exceptional.

The show is stolen, however, by Anwar Russell, who plays the Sergeant, the Inspector, and the undertaker, each wonderfully characterised. The second he glides down the slide and slams his feet on the stage, it’s clear he’s about to chew up the scenery.

The play, like any farce, has lots of twists and turns. You never know what is about to happen next, and whilst you know that problems and lies are going to catch up on the characters, the results are often quite different to what you might have expected.

Whilst the play’s politics can be a bit heavy-handed, the final scene – a call to arms, complete with audience participation – is cathartic. I had no idea how the play would end; I just knew the comedy would be toned down to allow the play to end with one final message – one for the audience to remember.

That message? Solidarity.

No Pay? No Way! could not be more timely and topical. Sure, you might prefer escapism rather than a reflection of our reality, but there’s no escaping our problems – and this play invites us to laugh through the pain.


No Pay? No Way! runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre until June 10.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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