There’s barely a pause for breath in Rob Salmon’s sparkling production for the New Wolsey Theatre’s Young Company and, at first, the larger than life estuary accents may be interpreted as a bit “shouty”; however, it’s disconcerting how quickly the audience becomes enveloped in the frenzied world that Dario Fo created and the our ears become attuned.
It might be argued that Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! isn’t the farce it’s widely claimed to be but rather falls under the classification of theatre d’absurd or at the very least a modern commedia dell'arte. The pace is madcap and the conceits surreal – we’re expected to accept any number of implausibilities without question in the style of a live-action cartoon, while rapier-like political observations are thrust home. Whatever its genre, the piece entertains at a pace and we’re soon buying into a chaotic story of deceit, consumer excess, State control and economic depression.
Fo’s Milan-based action has been shifted to darkest Essex by adapters Bill Colvill and Robert Walker, and the characters anglicised accordingly. Rosi Spall’s loudmouthed Annie offers more than a nod to Catherine Tate and is a perfect catalyst to Steve Withers’ ranting factory worker, George.
George Harvison makes his first remarkable appearance with the company as the hapless Len and Hannah Carpenter gets plenty of opportunity to show off her natural comedic talent as his wife, Maggie.
Rounding off the on-stage quintet is a multi-faceted Jack Brett as a variety of characters, bringing impressive physical clowning skills to the fore.
Performances are pitched perfectly and Salmon’s naturalistic 1970s set is an ideal frame for a narrative that, while originally written in 1974, has an eerie socio-political resonance in 21st Century Britain. Strongly recommended.