In Northern Broadsides’ new political farce They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, Deborah McAndrew transposes Dario Fo’s 1970’s Italian political farce to Brexit Britain. It follows the antics of the out of work and well-meaning Anthea (Lisa Howard), whose overactive imagination gets her into a trolley full of trouble after she fills her cupboards for free in the midst of a supermarket riot.
The show follows a handful of characters struggling to cope in the middle of a political and economic crisis, facing the loss of their livelihoods as Brexit threatens to pull the country apart. The situation is grim. But Anthea’s tendency to whip up extravagant stories only serves to make things worse as spiral dangerously out of control, plunging her husband and neighbours head first into the most bizarre situations imaginable.
The show features everything that a good farce should. Expect wry witticisms, hidden characters and hilarious physical comedy set pieces. Michael Hugo steals the show as he frantically multi-rolls between four characters, with the best laughs centering around his absurd characterisation and his quick changes. The first half is mostly expositional and slightly uninspiring but the chaos really kicks in in act two and there’s plenty to laugh at.
What feels strange about the show is that it creates an actor-audience relationship that resembles something you would expect from a pantomime. The audience are invited by the cast to join in with a sing-along before the show begins. Lisa Howard spends much of the show apologising directly to the audience for her cringe inducing puns and some audience members get hands on with the action. Unfortunately these moments often feel unnatural and interfere with the farce’s need to gain substantial momentum.
The production’s political message is so unashamedly obvious it almost evokes groans, with obligatory splatterings of ‘fake news’ and other such 2019 buzzwords littered throughout. The actors step back out of character and use their final words to explain the political message plainly for us, as if it wasn’t already clear enough.
They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay is certainly timely and there’s lots to laugh at. But the uneven mixture of pantomime and farce creates an experience that is rough around the edges. It feels like a strange request to wish for more subtlety from a farce but sermonising about Brexit feels counter-productive when the characters and the situations in the play already speak volumes themselves.