Written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame in a new version by Marieke Hardy
Directed by Bryony Shanahan
ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE
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.
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.
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!!