They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!
October 30 – November 3
On tour until December 2
What a difference a day makes, or a decade or several of them, since ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ was originally written in 1974, and yes, indeed, plus ça change. So how does it translate? Exceedingly well, thanks to Deborah McAndrew, and what a difference is made by those two pronouns, plus a slight tweak for the title, and for Marx’s statement that history repeats itself, ‘ first as tragedy, then as farce’. What we have here is even more than that: the tragic situation of far too many people today, underlined by the use of surreal farce.
This erupts in splendid style as the play opens, with out of work and desperately broke Anthea staggering home laden with looted shopping, accompanied by her friend and reluctant accomplice, Maggie. But where to stash the booty when both their husbands are honest, upright citizens? Phantom pregnancies are the first thing to spring to mind, naturally, and rather than let anything going to waste, there’s new recipes to try, with dogfood and bird seed…
The staging is also bizarrely inventive. At first, facing an exterior of what appear to be solid grey walls, with no doors, you wonder how this is going to work but it soon reveals the interior of a shabby flat, part of an enormous estate. But only a couple of doors, unless you count the cupboards, one of which, giant economy size, is damn near another star of the show since it has a role as a kind of reverse deus ex machina, things disappearing at convenient moments rather than something suddenly materialising to save the day.
What guarantees an excellent evening is play and cast completely in harmony. Everybody is having one hell of a time, to the extent that with every sharp comment and dreadful pun, they are virtually standing there, arms akimbo, daring you not to laugh, or to groan. Lisa Howard as down to earth Anthea is full of energy and bright ideas, or rather, fantastic plans, with Suzanne Ahmet as the somewhat fey Maggie, more quietly but equally making her mark. Jack (Steve Huison) commands the stage with his fine rhetoric, despite its being undermined by some furtive but funny doings; Lewis, Maggie’s husband, puts in a late appearance but Matt Connor loses no time in making an impression. Last, but by no means least, so busy keeping umpteen plates spinning, aka a variety of roles, with Michael Hugo, we get the pleasure of his company in different guises and disguises. What adds to the fun is the deliberate carelessness, such as the quick changes not being quite quick enough: undertaker to corpse, for example. Or was it vice versa?
To be honest, not being a political animal, all those stars are because I didn’t expect an entertaining evening, and this was a painless way to learn more about the subject… actually, it was painful, and the ending is very downbeat. Nonetheless, whatever your affiliations, definitely not a show to be missed, and certainly not when it’s brought to you courtesy of Northern Broadsides.