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Review: No Pay? No Way! at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Review By Carly Fisher

Walking into the Drama Theatre for STC's current production, 'No Pay? No Way!' you're immediately transported into the low-cost housing developments that are a universal staple of the working class. A two-story Italian dwelling fills the stage and thus the scene is set for Dario Fo's 1970's classic farce originally titled 'Sotto Paga! Non Si Paga!'

To say that this play has aged well would be at once an understatement and also a gross overlook of the immense work put in by Marieke Hardy who has reworked this classic to perfectly fit into the current Australian climate of frustrated citizenship and ineffective politics. There is a familiarity of being so fed up with circumstance and disillusioned by current leadership that embeds a certain comradery between audience and character that proves why this was the perfect time to bring this work to the Australian stage.

When the prices are doubled at the local supermarket, Antonia (Helen Thomson) joins a spontaneous women's movement of local housewives who rise up against the supermarket manager and 'liberate' the food. Thomson has became a staple of every STC season over the years but her opening monologue in this show will make this character a stand out performance in her extensive repertoire. The first ten minutes of this show, as she explains to her friend Margherita (Catherine Van-Davies) the thrill of the supermarket riot and the necessity of action are hilarious and should be seen by any female identifying actor looking for their next comedic monologue audition piece. This scene is a hoot and had me completely hooked into this show!!

The cast of 5 make up a perfect ensemble for this piece. Van-Davies portrays Margherita with a sincerity and vulnerability that immediately makes her so endearing as she is pulled along for the wild rides of never-to-be-outspoken Antonia. That said, her cheekiness makes the shift to rebellious Margherita smooth and effective - I'm loving seeing more of Van-Davies on the STC stage and hope she remains a featured member of their regular ensemble. Giovanni (Glenn Hazeldine) is the perfect concerned husband to Antonia who seems to completely embody everything we question about men today...namely, why do they believe everything we women tell them =). Absolutely hilarious in this role (though I wish that facial hair addition had never made it on stage), Hazeldine is one of those unicorn ensemble members we all wish to have in a show - someone who knows when not to steal the scene, only to act in the best interest of the group at large. His character is sometimes in charge, and in these moments, Hazeldine commandeers, in other moments, he supports his fellow cast like only a true expert of the stage can. I enjoy watching him every time he is on stage.

Less familiar to me before now was Aaron Tsindos who took on the roles of the Sergeant, Inspector, Undertaker and Old Man, and was completely hilarious in each. Tsindos is a true comedian and knows how to use physical humour to enhance a scene far beyond what was written initially on the page. Rounding out the cast is Rahel Romahn as Luigi (Margherita's husband) who, again, is new to me from this production and who I hope to see again as a result - especially in a role that features more of his singing chops!

But ultimately, it is Thomson who steals the limelight in this show with the wonderfully wacky Antonia. Throughout, her performance is unpredictable, exciting and fresh.

Hardy's work on the classic is most noticeable in the play's Australianisation - for example, when Tsindos calls for anyone who works in the super department of 'arts, infrastructure, etc' and in doing so, invites the audience's laughter. What is a farce for if not to take stock of our own current misfortunes?

But for all the comradery that is established between audience and characters in moments like this, one critical difference remains - I simply don't believe that we are ready to take action in the way that these characters are. We are not looting our supermarkets or singing on our train tracks. We are taking it. We may be seeing theatre that makes us think that we are not, but only intellectually do we actually fight it - and so it is here, in this fundamental difference between civility and order and the chaos but action we watch on stage that no amount of appropriation to make it Aussie will ever truly make it 'our story.'

Charles Davies' set is wonderful, especially when it is kept in the true form of an apartment block, whether that is featuring the interior or exterior. Its opening movement is beautiful and whilst I didn't personally love its later split, I appreciated the artistry of the design and the deep symbolism behind its movement. I personally would have preferred to see the set stay whole and turn in 6 pieces, like a puzzle, to achieve that same symbolic meaning and in doing so, to expose less of the vast black space of the Drama Theatre. This a matter only of personal preference, the initial design and the set dressing was really stunning and very effective in transporting us not only to 'Italy' but also to a particular class and time period.

For all of the achievements of this production, there seemed to be a disconnect between act 1 and act 2 in its presentation of comedy. Act 1 is clever, witty and dialogue driven humour, whereas Act 2 shifts to a more slapstick style of physical humour. It does mean that there is something for everyone to laugh at throughout the show and that certainly seems to be the case as the laughter jumps from section to section of the audience. However, I found that the two Acts felt slightly disjointed as, for example, the more reserved Margherita now took to the top of the bed and screamed into a monstrous cacophony, etc.

Perhaps this is largely to do with Sarah Giles' direction - she seemed to go in two different directions as the play progressed and whilst she achieved both successfully, to me, they simply felt like two plays. Nevertheless, her direction has brought out greatness in each member of the ensemble and allowed them room to flex their comedic prowl successfully and for this she must be highly commended. Her final vision of all 5 accepting defeat and wondering which way the future will go against the simplicity of the brick wall, singing 'Bella Ciao' was beautiful, refined and artistic. It was truly a stunning way to end such a busy play.

I loved this piece of theatre and would recommend it highly to anyone who, like me, needed a good laugh after a long day. This show was totally what the doctor ordered and it was done with the quality and finesse one expects of STC. Congratulations to those involved.

Image Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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