Katherine Pearce and Samantha Power.
Image credit: Johan Persson

Written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame in a new version by Marieke Hardy

Directed by Bryony Shanahan


We are in a cost of living crisis with strikes becoming our everyday norm and inflation seemingly spiralling out of control. Our NHS is haemorrhaging staff and needing more than just life support. Post-Brexit Britain is a joke in the eyes of our European cousins and on the World Stage. Our current government is utterly self-serving and increasingly more fascist. So no time like now for our Royal Exchange to stage the anarchic farce that is NO PAY? NO WAY! Written in the Seventies by world renowned Italian playwright Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame; this new version by Marieke Hardy was first performed in Sydney in February 2020. Bryony Shanahan could have opted for her last production of this season to be something earnest and sensitive but in choosing this gloriously silly and madcap farce she has struck the perfect mood for so many of us. This a production that celebrates the ridiculous and the absurd while packing in a powerful political rallying call against poverty and injustice.

Cécile Trémolières has created a high energy, hugely entertaining set filled with bright colours, divided up by orange pipes with exits and entrances composed of bright yellow slides and round metal tunnels. It evokes a sense of childlike exuberance that is reminiscent of a scene from Super Mario Brothers blended with the playfulness of early Eighties French cinema. Everything has a cartoonish element from the costume design with actor’s roles spelled out on t-shirts to the fun packaging of foodstuffs. The periscope adds to the sense of industrial workers  living in the underbelly of society despite being the very foundation of the economy.

Katherine Pearce as Margarita.
Image credit: Johan Persson

The cast of five work as a tight unit making the slapstick, madcap humour flow seamlessly. They hit all the right beats and keep the pacing of the original play while balancing the new writing in a manner that celebrates Dario Fo while staying fresh and relevant in all its topical references. Samantha Power as Antonia delivers a powerhouse performance as she fizzes with the thrill of revolution and liberating bagfuls of groceries from the local supermarket. Her deft wrong footing of her beleagured hubby resembles a Premier goalscorer as she deflects his concerns and persuades him into believing the most ludicrous suggestions. Katherine Pearce delights as the younger, initially more reticent wife who ends up having to fake a pregnancy to hide the stolen groceries. She really hits her stride in the second act as her character grows in confidence and her anger and desperation yields a polemic speech that ricocheted through the theatre.

The male characters pontificate loudly but in the hands of Marieke Hardy and Director Bryony Shanahan they are as easily outwitted by the women as they have been molded by management. Roger Morlidge gives a gorgeous performance as Giovanni providing a solid foil to Antonia. His eye rolling and hapless brandishing of a fish slice during the birth scene are joyful. The chemistry in the scenes with Gurjeet Singh add to the Chaplinesque qualities of the production…none more than the physical comedy when they are on the non existent travelator and breaking the fourth wall. Anwar Russell flounces through multiple roles delineated by t-shirt logos, a selection of comedy moustaches. His posturing and camp asides are a real pleasure as he gives a hi-octane performance filled with playful charm.

Roger Morlidge and Gurjeet Singh.
Image credit: Johan Persson
Anwar Russell.
Image credit: Johan Persson

This production feels like a real labour of love. The lighting design by Elliott Griggs is playful and adds to the cartoon elements of the humour. The repeated breaking of the fourth wall allows Shanahan to ramp up the comedy and ingeniously add big drama elements to the production including large scale lorry crashes and helicopter swoops which are eluded to but are comically conveyed by responses to supposed theatre staff strikes. It’s a clever twist in this madcap frolic but also deftly illustrates all the theatre staff working behind a big production who sweep up or climb rigging and whose part in creating the magic on stage is usually unseen and unheard. This fun filled production packs a mighty punch as it eviserates those responsible for an unfair and unjust system. There is a system…The system is broken. Thankfully the only thing broken in this production is the fourth wall!!

ROYAL EXCHANGE 12th May – 10th June 2023


Estella Daniels. Image by Wasi Daniju

Written by Claudia Rankine

Directed by Natalie Ibu


Claudia Rankine’s first play forensically dissects the debate around white privilege and guilt in a world where collecting  artworks of black deaths is perceived by some as more worthy than taking an unflinching look at why white skin remains invisible. The White Card is a cool, clinical look at themes of art, race, suffering, discrimination and patronage. Written in 2019, it predates the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and highlights an America that is increasingly racially divided. Rankine places a cultured  black artist at a dinner party with her privileged white hosts and invites her audience to sit back and watch as the conversation implodes.

The White Card. Image by Wasi Daniju

The dinner party from hell includes wealthy, liberal hosts Charles and Virginia, their woke son Alex, their obsequious art broker friend Eric, and Charlotte, a successful black artist who they hope to impress with their patronage. The first half plays out a number of  classic racial faux pas as Virginia mixes up the identity of her guest with another black artist she had previously met and later in the party delivers the ultimate cringe worthy comment. The first half focuses primarily on highly intellectual and rather stiff conversations around American artists such as JeanMichel Basquiat and Robert Longo interspersed with details of numerous, horrific race hate crimes. The dialogue is debate heavy with little action and is undoubtedly interesting, however the degree of detail and the volume of factual information involved makes for a somewhat heavy, rather plodding script. The characters are all very well played by the actors especially Estella Daniels who brings so much nuance to her character Charlotte. The main issue is that the pacing doesn’t quite work and the result is a play with fascinating subject matter that somehow remains quite flat and static. The characters are so elite that they feel largely unrelatable and the core theme of the play about the invisibility of whiteness risks getting greyed out by the equally stark, unspoken visibility of class.

Image by Wasi Daniju

The set design by Debbie Duru looks fabulous and perfectly conveys a sleek, minimalist Manhattan loft apartment. Everything screams whiteness including the male protagonist’s carefully curated art collection despite its content. All the paintings are blank with their subject matter of black suffering conveyed starkly by their titles simply written on white canvases. In the second half the cleverly crafted set reveals Charlotte’s much more personal studio workspace.

It is the second half where the dialogue becomes more richly human rather than cerebral. The energy and drama of the set change accompanied by the thrombing beat of Childish Gambino‘s This is America seem to breathe life and colour into the proceedings. It’s one year on from the disastrous party where Charlotte’s artwork was compared to Charles’ latest acquisition which is a sculptural piece that included the autopsy report for Michael Brown. The artist has profoundly changed her style and is now making work to make the invisible visible instead of photographing renactments of black trauma. When Charles comes to her studio he is bewildered by her shift and is aghast to discover that it is his white skin on display in her latest exhibition. The great white curator has been redacted down to simply become Exhibit C.

This is a genuinely fascinating piece of theatre and definitely provokes dialogue on complex subject matter. The performances are all strong and perfectly pitched especially those of Estella Daniels and Matthew Pidgeon. I really wanted to love this piece but somehow this dissemination of race issues that affect all of us feels too elitist and removed from the everyday conversation we all need to be having if things are to ever truly change.

HOME 18th – 21st May 2022

On tour Leeds Playhouse 24th May – 4th June 2022

Birmingham Rep Theatre 8th – 18th June 2022

Soho Theatre 21st June – 16th July 2022


Created by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah

Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Manchester International Festival

Upper Campfield Market Hall

Tree certainly helped to get the party vibe going at the launch night of MIF19. Walking into Upper Campfield Market Hall the club night was in full swing. The huge stepped circular stage and runway platform were filled with dancers and audience members. There was a real energy and dynamism in the space that was coming from the audience as well as the performers. So far so good as this production has had it’s fair share of bad press this week with very measured and detailed statements from writers Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley who worked on the project until last year claiming to have been unceremoniously kicked off. Co-creator and Director Kwame Kwei-Armah seemed to want to take the project in another direction and these women are now uncredited for their contribution.

So what does Tree actually have to say in its tale of personal loss and the bloody history of South Africa? Influenced by the loss of his father in the same year as the death of Nelson Mandela, his filming of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and making his album Mi Mandela Idris Elba was inspired to create a piece of musical theatre. The subsequent end result, working closely with Director Kwame Kwei-Armah blends drama, music and dance as a young mixed race Londoner travels to South Africa to place his mother’s ashes by his father’s grave. Tree is an attempt to confront the ghosts of a fractured family history while also seeking to reconcile with the turbulent history of this complex country.

Through conversations with the living and dreamlike sequences watching history play out below him Kaleo delves into the tragic origins of his parents love affair and the bitter outcome of that love during Apartheid. Theatre blends with riotous dance that spills of the stage as audience participation is encouraged during riot scenes and celebratory dance scenes. There is a lot to like in this piece which has a strong cast including Sinéad Cusack, Alfred Enoch and Patrice Naiambana and it is beautifully staged. The tech team of Jon Clark, Paul Arditti and Duncan McLean have done a wonderful job of lighting, sound and projection which make for something quite special.

The story told is not new or unique but it is clearly personal to many who lived through or are still living in the shadows of South Africa’s past and forging a new and fairer society. Sadly that is where I have issues with Tree as in the enthusiasm to embrace so much the central characters are never fully fleshed out. These creations deserve more respect and fleshing out to fully understand the complexities of living through Apartheid. This still feels like a young sapling rather than a mighty oak. Hopefully it will grow and develop the strong roots that this ambitious project was clearly striving for.

Upper Campfield Market 4-13 July 2019

Young Vic 29th July- 24th August 2019

Images credit Marc Brenner