No Pay? No Way! review – rising food prices lead to theft and farce

It is quite startling to witness just how relevant Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s 1974 farce is today. The Italian Nobel prize winner’s play has been translated and updated by Australian writer Marieke Hardy. The detail of the piece, with discussions of rising food prices, teachers using food banks, striking NHS staff and people being told to “get used to being poorer” is Hardy’s, but the scaffolding is Fo and Rame’s.

The play tells the story of housewives revolting over food prices and stealing from a supermarket, with events spiralling out of control. We meet Antonia, played by Samantha Power, in full flow having arrived straight from purloining the weekly grocery shop and wondering how to hide her bounty from husband, morally upright union man Giovanni (Roger Morlidge).

Power plays it for laughs, but as Leslie Nielsen always so masterfully demonstrated, the more seriously you perform a piece of farce, the more hilarious it becomes. Morlidge’s Giovanni is funnier; he feels as though he is of the piece, as opposed to standing outside it looking in, although there are comedic missteps here too: he borrows an Alan Partridge joke and repeats someone’s name over and over but the performance lacks Partridge’s genuine desperation to be heard.

The set suggests we are either in a submarine, a subterranean bunker or the Teletubbies house. The large, colourful pipes that run around the set seem to be there for no real reason, other than as an inconvenience to the cast. Similarly, there is an occasionally distracting lack of cohesion in the script and direction, with Anwar Russell playing a series of police officers in varying states of flamboyance, while the impressive Gurjeet Singh as Luigi is entirely sincere.

A performance “house style” is difficult to grasp and the script makes a bold promise about two-thirds in with a shattering of the fourth wall – which it then inexplicably re-erects, asking the audience to rebuild the artifice in our minds.

What makes the piece work is that it speaks to now, and how. The message is coruscating and clear, if the delivery occasionally less so.