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Can't Pay? Won't Pay! (Hornchurch, Queen's Theatre)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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The fun is fast and curious with trolley-loads of local references and much involvement of the audience. But it’s not panto time – it’s Bob Carlton’s staging of the classic Dario Fo} political farce first staged in 1974. True, you could almost re-title Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! in [Joseph Farrell’s energetic and bang-up-to-date translation as The Merry Wives of Romford, but there’s no disguising the bite behind the surface laughter.

All this is helped along by some good ensemble playing and a quirky set by Claire Lyth, marvellously askew and itself a key player in the story. Georgina Field is Antonia, facing eviction from the right-to-buy ex-council house she and husband John had bought before he found himself out of an assembly-line job.

Caught up in one of those protests about rising prices which  somehow dissolve into actual riots, she comes home with bags full of supermarket goodies for which she hasn’t paid. Unfortunately, they’re ones designed for the four-legged or two-winged members of the animal kingdom not for human consumption. But when the gas and the electricity are being cut off and the bailiffs are at the door…

Enter her friend Maggie (Kate Robson-Stuart. The women’s attempts to hide the non-purchases from John and Maggie’s husband Lol lead to ever more frantic inventions and the involvement of a policemen, his inspector, an undertaker and a grandfather – don’t ask! These four misfits give Jonathan Markwood opportunities which he grasps with both hands, both feet and much else in between.

Both Simon Jessop as John and Steve Simmonds as Lol revel in their parts and are also very funny, especially when sampling the animal food and then finding themselves landed with bags full of trendy gear “liberated’ from some looted shops by the local hoodies. It all culminates in a truly anarchic finale – which I won’t spoil for you. Let’s just say that who needs “The internationale” when you can have the barricades chorus from Les Misérables?


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