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No Pay? No Way! - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)

By Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Adapted by Marieke Hardy. Directed by Sarah Giles


A play of epically comedic proportions that delivers a helping of social commentary that reflects the farce of the cost of living crisis


Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Until 11th May, 2024


When it comes to the world of farcical comedy, there are two trajectories in which playwrights and creators can generally go. One being the pure entertainment and comedic high stakes value such as that of the widely successful The Play That Goes Wrong and Noises Off, or there’s the second path, that which can be widely funny and absurd, whilst at its core be stuffed to the brim with social commentary that defies time. Dario Fo’s 1974 play Italian Marxist Farce Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! or We Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay, with the English translation, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, takes this route of throwing high stakes farce at its audience, whilst hiding in plain sight (like groceries hidden beneath a trenchcoat) its anti-capitalism message. 


When it first premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2020, Marieke Hardy’s adaptation of Fo’s work was met with standing ovations and rave reviews. The production then attempted a return post-covid, but was met with lockdowns once more, and now its triumphant re-staging has opened at the Sydney Opera House. I’m glad to say that this irreverently funny, sharp and witty production is just as relevant as ever, thanks to Sarah Giles’ direction and a cast that wraps themselves around every comedic beat that comes their way.


No Pay? No Way! Sydney Theatre Company (2024). Image: Daniel Boud.


In this time of cost of living crisis, No Pay? No Way! reads as if it were written just yesterday. We follow Atonia (Mandy McElhinney) and Margherita (Emma Harvie), two women who participate in an uprising at the local supermarket, liberating groceries amidst a soaring cost of living situation in Italy resulting in unpaid gas and electricity bills and overdue rent. Sounds familiar right? Knowing their stringently law-abiding husbands won’t tolerate theft, they seek to hide their stolen goods as best they can. Meanwhile, husbands Luigi (Roman Delo) and Giovanni (Glenn Hazeldine) are dealing with their own financial woes amidst workers strike and unionising, not to mention the sudden absurdly grocery-shaped pregnancy of their wives!


Giles’ direction is creative and artful in a way that is never overpowering, or underhanded. With her cast, Giles finds the beats in Fo’s writing that are as widely relevant today as they were 50 years ago. With Hardy’s adaptations, Giles adds modern spins and references that will have the audience tittering at their hard truths, and belly laughing from the sheer madness of the mirror being held up at them. 


 [McElhinney & Harvie] are an iconic comedic pairing

A line about government ministers getting their secretaries pregnant flows easily into warnings about prop newspapers being “Murdoch Papers”, which gives way to actors breaking the fourth wall to ask if anyone has an empty investment property they could live in, and ultimately comes crashing towards the play’s inevitable conclusion. At points, the social commentary can be quite ham-fisted in its delivery, whilst other subtle lines and comments are thrown headfirst at the metaphorical wall, with most of it sticking with hilarious results.


Charles Davis’ design is, to put it plainly, bloody awesome. The two apartment blocks we find ourselves in sit neatly atop of one another before the stage hands come in to swing the blocks around revealing the apartment behind, which then rolls to the very front of the stage before the second floor lowers behind it. It effectively welcomes audiences into the reality of the play. Throughout, as the madness descends, the set is then split apart and cut up, reflecting the characters' individual charades transforming into chaos. It’s artful, playful and applause worthy in itself.


McElhinney and Harvie are having the most fun at play here as the two wives pull one over on each man in the play. From McElhinney’s raw and knife sharp one liners with superb timing, through to Harvie’s commitment at birthing a grocery baby. They’re an iconic comedic pairing.


As the absent-minded husbands, Delo and Hazeldine pair well with each other, as well as their partners on stage. Hazeldine brings uproarious cackles and belly laughs from his lack of knowledge on how babies are born and the husband’s roles in the birthing process, mistaking olive seeds to be womb olives and his desperation for hunger almost leading him to eating Chunx dog food from a board. 


The relevancy of No Pay? No Way! cannot be understated, both in its ability to reflect the ongoing financial crisis outside of the theatre walls, but also the ideas of socialism bound within.

None are having more of a revelrous time on stage though than Aaron Tsindos as the Sergeant, Inspector, Undertaker and Old Man at various points. Tsindos’ tongue is very much in cheek throughout, as he ranges from socialist police sergeant to capitalist Carabinieri Inspector who succumbs to the matriarchal spirits conjured by Antonia and Margherita. His trumpet playing, fourth wall breaking and ability to lean into the absurd brings some of the show’s highlights.


Along with Tim Dashwood’s fight and movement choreography, there are moments of pure farce here that drew applause from the audience. The hiding of the Inspector’s body in a cupboard brings a moment of door slamming wit and timing that would make the Mischief Theatre crew jealous.


The relevancy of No Pay? No Way! cannot be understated, both in its ability to reflect the ongoing financial crisis outside of the theatre walls, but also the ideas of socialism bound within. Whilst it may seem to some a needless spending on a night at the theatre amidst a cost of living crisis, plays such as this bring us moments of relief, whilst being a targeted reminder of the power play amongst the elite in our society. As the cheerful Sergeant states, “When the revolution comes, the women and the workers will be the ones leading the charge”. The play's inevitable ending, as bleak as it is poignant, is a reminder that laughter and farce is cathartic as hell. Because if we can't laugh at the sheer madness on stage, we’ll cry at the sheer madness that is the reality outside the theatre doors.


 

CAST & CREATIVES

DIRECTOR Sarah Giles


ANTONIA Mandy McElhinney

LUIGI Roman Delo

MARGHERITA Emma Harvie

GIOVANNI Glenn Hazeldine

SERGEANT/INSPECTOR/

UNDERTAKER/OLD MAN Aaron Tsindos


DESIGNER Charles Davis

PRODUCTION MANAGER Ally Moon

STAGE MANAGER Stephanie Storr

LIGHTING DESIGNER Paul Jackson

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER Sean Proude

COMPOSER & SOUND DESIGNER Steve Francis

COSTUME COORDINATOR Sam Perkins

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Tait de Lorenzo

BACKSTAGE WARDROBE SUPERVISOR Nicole Artsetos

FIGHT & MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Tim Dashwood

LIGHTING SUPERVISOR Tim McNaught

VOICE & TEXT COACH Charmian Gradwell

FLOOR ELECTRICIAN Sam Scott

SOUND SUPERVISOR Luke Davis/Ben Lightowlers

SOUND OPERATOR Jonathan Palmer

STAGING SUPERVISOR Chris Fleming

HEAD MECHANIST Nathan Williams

AUTOMATION OPERATOR Anthony Arnold

REHEARSAL PHOTOGRAPHER Prudence Upton

 

2 HOURS 20 MINS, INCLUDING INTERVAL

THIS PRODUCTION PREMIERED AT THE DRAMA THEATRE, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE ON 14 FEBRUARY 2020

THIS SEASON OPENED IN THE DRAMA THEATRE, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE ON 6 APRIL 2024


THIS PRODUCTION IS SUPPORTED BY THE STC ANGELS. ORIGINAL PRODUCTION SUPPORTED BY ANITA & LUCA BELGIORNO-NETTIS FOUNDATION


Marketing image Rene Vaile

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