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Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, Chickenshed Theatre

Dario Fo
Translated by Lino Pertile, adapted by Bill Colvill and Robert Walker
Directed by Jelena Budimir
★★★★

Pros: A fun play from a Nobel prize winning playwright. Great comedy with impressive rough-and-tumble slapstick.

Cons: The venue is at the top end of the Piccadilly Line (possibly the slowest line of them all) so give yourself plenty of time to get there, and then some!

Our Verdict: A night of hilarity from a tremendous, forward-thinking company who are on the up.

Courtesy of One Stop Arts

The Chickenshed theatre company had it’s beginnings in a genuine, fully-functional chickenshed which was taken over by two visionary theatre-makers way back in 1974. Since then, it has managed to become a leader in progressive, inclusive theatre which is now bravely paving the way towards positive change in the arts. In the early 1980’s, a young actor with cerebral palsy joined the company and in doing so inspired the founders to focus on integration in the theatre. Chickenshed supporters include Dame Judi Dench and Trevor Nunn (who are now both trustees). The late Princess Diana was also a huge fan and a royal patron during her lifetime.

Italian playwright Dario Fo is arguably one of the greatest figures in modern literature. His highly politicised work has been translated into countless languages and his popularity shows no signs of wavering. Fo has been described as a writer “who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”. Fo has garnered a string of coveted awards for his contribution to literature – most notably the Nobel prize in 1997.

Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! (originally entitled Non Si Paga, Non Si Paga!), is a play set in 1970’s Italy which highlights the plight of Italian workers during the economic crisis of that time. This production manages to successfully adapt Fo’s work to fit in nicely with modern British culture. The characters of Luigi, Margherita and Giovanni are changed to Louis, Maggie and John with daily familiarities like Nectar points and David Cameron nicely woven throughout the drama to anglicise the dialogue.

The play opens with a rather dramatic supermarket sweep where our leading lady Antonia (Roisin Rae) and a group of impoverished, disgruntled shoppers grab everything they can manage to get their hands on. Antonia then hides out in her flat, still high on the adrenalin and surrounded by a million bulging shopping bags. Roisin Rae plays her character with impressive high energy for much of the show. This energy mixed with the relatively quiet, monotonous tone of her husband John (Paul Harris), creates a really effective, well-matched comedy duo. Antonia’s cockney accent and working-class values contrast nicely with her grumbling moralist husband.

Gavin May, who plays the police inspector and a sprinkling of other characters, performs a number of acrobatic turns which are really very impressive indeed. His physically-demanding slapstick style is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Particularly during the scenes where he plays a private detective where May is reminiscent of the great old-school vaudeville comics like Harpo Marx. His precise comic timing teamed with buckets of charisma, physical dexterity and notable acting talents make him something of a scene-stealer. The fact that he manages to slip in and out of a wide variety of completely different characters both swiftly and believably also demonstrates an impressive range. He is teamed with a very charming Geoffrey Boud for much of his time on stage and together they bring in the biggest laughs of the evening while adding tremendous warmth to the play.

This is a really fun, clever play from a company who have a big, bright future. Dario Fo’s script still has a lot to say about modern society 30 years after it was first written. Even if some of the Marxist references are slightly dated, most of this play still feels very fresh. Sadly, the run of Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! is almost over so if you can’t get tickets to this one (though you really should try), then I urge you to check out the Chickenshed website for info on more exciting upcoming productions.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! runs at the Chickenshed Theatre until 27th October 2012.
Box Office: 020 8292 9222 or book online at

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