A reworking of Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! written in 1974, this new version by Marieke Hardy is so achingly topical it’s hard to believe the basic concept is almost 50 years old.
Food prices are rising, costs for essential services are spiralling out of control, workers are being exploited and politicians appear to be doing little about it. Sound familiar?
That’s the basis for this searing political farce which is delivered with such pace and such bravado by a truly outstanding cast it will take your breath away.
Classic farce is an art form and the Royal Exchange has got itself a minor masterpiece. At times the pace is so fast the production threatens to run away with itself but the fact it never does is thanks to some wonderful performances.
The humour ranges from the surreal to the downright silly.There are so many laughs that they threaten to swamp the next line. It’s bonkers at times but also there’s a wonderful heart to it all.
Antonia, a cracking performance from Samantha Power, returns from the supermarket laden down with ‘stolen’ goods. The housewives have revolted, fed up with crippling costs they’ve decided to ‘liberate’ the contents of the store.
Wracked with guilt and fearful of her husband’s reaction she persuades her hapless friend Margherita to hide all this contraband under her coat. From here it all just gets crazy with a storyline involving fake pregnancies, police raids and total mayhem. Let’s put it this way, you’ll never be able to look at olives in the same way again!
The set is amazing, a riot of neon pipes and heavy industry looking like a cross between the Wacky Warehouse and something from Wallace and Gromit.
Quite how none of the cast came a cropper having to navigate the many obstacles in their way was a miracle.
Katherine Pearce as Margherita was pure joy, the perfect innocent foil for the firebrand minx Antonia.
Read more: Katherine Pearce ‘I hope it does spark more awareness – but no getting arrested please’
Roger Morlidge as Antonia’s husband Giovanni, a man who is clinging on to his faith in the unions and the due process of law, is wonderfully world-weary and Margherita’s husband Luigi, played by Gurjeet Singh, was at times believably bemused and at others enthused by the chaos enveloping him.
But star of the show is undoubtedly Anwar Russell who takes on the roles of both a police sergeant and inspector, an undertaker and an old man.
His initial entrance down the spiral slide is priceless and his movement just hilarious. Every credit too to the costume team who kitted him out as a dayglo member of the Village People, brilliant!
In comedy timing is everything and with this production the cast have it down to the millisecond. The sheer physical effort required to deliver this show has to be seen to be believed. For some, it might just all be too frenetic, too manic and too mad. But go with it and you will be royally entertained.
It’s a whirlwind of a show that delivers a pretty powerful punch along the way all leading to a rousing climax that produced a roar from the audience as they rose for a standing ovation unlike anything I have heard in a theatre for a very long time.
No Pay? No Way! is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until Saturday, June 10. Details from www.royalexchange.co.uk