BWW Review: YOU DON'T PAY? WE WON'T PAY!, York Theatre Royal
As we find ourselves in the throes of Brexit Britain and a new era of political madness across the globe, Northern Broadsides could not have chosen a more appropriate time to bring back Dario Fo's farcical political satire You Don't pay? We Won't Pay! (originally titled Can't Pay? Won't Pay!).
Developed in partnership with York Theatre Royal, Fo's farcical comedy follows two working-class women who take advantage of a riot at a local supermarket to stock up their cupboards, and the chaos that ensues as they concoct increasingly outlandish plans to hide their crime from their straight-laced husbands. It is an irreverent take on modern politics, the working poor and marginalised voices across the country.
Despite originally being written in 1974, under the direction of Conrad Nelson Northern Broadsides have well and truly transposed the script to Brexit Britain with mentions of nectar points, Aldi, bankers and even a Trump reference or two. The script is anything but outdated, with an distinctively modern, northern voice.
Taking place in Jessica Worrall's functional yet wonderfully realistic set, the production flits brazenly between silliness and satire, with unabashed political commentary sitting quite comfortably next to fart jokes.
Right from the get-go Lisa Howard and Suzanna Ahmet, who play Anthea and Maggie respectively, are slick and energetic in their performances, pulling off tight choreography (from fight director Philip d'Orleans) as well as dense, snappy dialogue. Howard is the embodiment of clever chaos, and Ahmet's comedic prowess shines through as the young Catholic girl just trying to do the right thing - if she can figure out what that is.
Steve Huison as Jack and Matt Connor as Lewis are equally polished in their roles. Huison carries most of the more upfront political commentary written into the dialogue, which he delivers with all the right levels of humour, passion and sensitivity. His final, rousing speech is the lynchpin of the play, bringing two hours of farce into sharp perspective and giving the audience pause for thought.
The highlight, however, is Michael Hugo's masterful multi-roling. As four different characters, from Marxist policeman to Scottish undertaker, Hugo is a joy to watch and the source of some of the most hilarious moments in the play. He breaks the fourth wall with well-crafted nonchalance and isn't afraid to don a dress or a ridiculous moustache (even when it repeatedly tries to detach itself from his face).
Each character is delightfully different, and in the performance I attended he even pulled off some perfectly timed ad-libs. More than any other performer he embodies the spirit of the play, and pulls the audience along with him.
Whilst You Don't Pay? is undoubtedly a play for modern times, it is very much a relic of the past in its style. Reminiscent of old British sitcoms with plenty of slapstick comedy and "nudge nudge wink wink" moments, this works both to its benefit - there are some laugh out loud moments born of the madcap silliness - and to its detriment - it might be alienating to younger audiences.
However, this feels like a significant part of the commentary; there is a generation of the working class whose voices are fading and who themselves feel isolated by modern politics.
In You Don't Pay? We Won't Pay! Northern Broadsides have produced a play that will make you laugh, make you think, and likely elicit a very personal response from everyone who watches it.
No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, there is something to take away from a play which, despite all its absurdity, confronts you with some stark realities about a world where what we see playing out in the news and all around us is often just as farcical as what we see on stage.
Photo credit: Nobby Clark