Review: They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!

Date: 31/10/2018

A 1970s Marxist Italian farce, mysteriously about Brexit? Well, why not? If Northern Broadsides have taught us anything it’s that the fundamentals of life, politics and storytelling change little across centuries and continents.

Here Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! is translated to a housing estate in south Yorkshire, where the working classes are revolting against the high cost of living and low wages, resulting in a mass looting of the local supermarket. Set against the way the rich simply walk away from their debts, low-level theft committed by people who have to choose between rent and food doesn’t seem significant.

Attempting go hide their contraband are two couples, led by the tough but kindly Anthea, who go through phantom pregnancies, bodies in cupboards and pagan rituals in an attempt to outsmart a right-wing police officer.

The cast are a little let down by the script, which sags a little in the first half and goes haywire in the second. Northern Broadsides’ latest production pinballs between proselytising and pratfalls. Add in a dash of kitchen sink, groanworthy puns milked for all they can by the cast and infodumped history lessons and the uneasy result is reminiscent of an episode of Open All Hours directed by Ken Loach.

The result is reminiscent of an episode of Open All Hours directed by Ken Loach.

That doesn’t damage the effectively-realised set pieces, most are which are punctuated by scene-stealing turns from Michael Hugo, playing a range of absurd bit parts with barely a moustache, tweed cap and pair of high heels to assist. The cast have a lot of fun along the way and it’s infectious.

But what should be a timely production – in an age of Brexit, food poverty and distrust of authority – comes as as neither totally successful farce nor completely convincing satire.

By the play’s climax there’s little remaining for the audience to grasp, a sense reflected in the final scenes, that see the cast disappear into nothingness.

It reinforces the sense that this is a play out of time, with characters that don’t exist any more. They’ve had their time – and the opportunity to overturn the system They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! rails against has gone.

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 3 November