Italian playwright Dario Fo, 1997 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is essentially a writer of farce. His wit and humour successfully both cloud and enhance his deep political undertones.
‘NO PAY? NO WAY!’ (“Sotto Paga! Non Si Paga!”), written in 1974, is regarded as Fo’s second best known play internationally (after “Accidental Death Of An Anarchist”), and was performed in 35 countries by 1990.
This relevant and sharp translation by Marieke Hardy for the latest Sydney Theatre Company production is very funny. The Drama Theatre at the Opera House was ringing with laughter and spontaneous rounds of applause. Even the very clever set rotation which opened the show received applause.
In the working class suburbs of Milan, there are widespread redundancies and massive price hikes. The desperate housewives are fed up. Incited by the angry and bold Antonia (Helen Thomson) they storm the local supermarket, demand lower prices and cause a riot, stealing the food and escaping amid the chaos.
The women must hide their illegal stash from the law and their innocent husbands, who are horrified about the shoplifting. Hiding the food both under the bed and under the jacket of Antonia’s neighbour and best friend, Margherita (Catherine Van-Davies), they feign her sudden pregnancy. The lies grow, Antonia’s husband, Giovanni (Glenn Hazeldine) falls for their stories and tells Margherita’s husband, Luigi (Rahel Romahn) that his wife is pregnant, with embellished inaccuracy.
The law pay a visit, searching every home in the vicinity for the food. The gullible Sergeant is more interested in sitting and chatting sympathetically to Antonia and Giovanni. The bombastic Inspector arrives later, charging around like one of Mussolini’s generals.
Actor Aaron Tsindos is outstanding as the two policemen and later, an undertaker and an old man. In his multiple roles, he is reminiscent of John Cleese and Sasha Baron Cohen – his body language and accents highly contagious and amusing
Thomson as Antonia has great authority and comedic timing, especially when put on the spot to tell another fib, and Van-Davies’ reluctant and terrified partner-in-crime, the vulnerable and ultimately strong Margherita, is fabulous.
Hazeldine’s Giovanni is likeable, warm and naive and is hilarious in his quest for food when he struggles to not eat a tin of dog food.
Romahn’s gentle husband Luigi is vulnerable and sweet.
Also outstanding in the production is the wonderful set design by Charles Davis – a house which splits into four rooms and a balcony, turned around several times, pushed by the crew and the actors. Later in the play, the crew go on strike, with a sign they bring out originally saying, MEN AT WORK, crossed out to read, MEN NOT WORKING.
The rooms have glass shutters, (with a further building in the background), which are perfect for the flood of lighting, designed by Paul Jackson, making the rooms warm and vibrant.
Director Sarah Giles has done a stellar job of whipping this play into a fast- moving, hilarious romp, with important, underlying social issues still relevant today. Her production was facilitated by Hardy’s modernised and witty translation, where the men’s monologues about communism and capitalism were shifted gently back and the women’s Australian feminist ideologies gently pushed forward. After all, as Hardy says, “Antonia and Magherita have always been the heroines of ‘No Pay’”
‘NO PAY? NO WAY!’ Is well worth seeing. It will play at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until March 20th, 2020 and then at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from April 1st until April 4th, 2020.
Featured image : Helen Thomson, Catherine Van-Davies, Glenn Hazeldine, Aaron Tsindos. Pic Prudence Upton.