Monday June 17, 2024


By Diana Simmonds
April 11 2024

NO PAY? NO WAY! Sydney Theatre Company at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 6 April-11 May 2024. Photography: Daniel Boud: above - recalcitrant set; below Mandy McElhinney and Emma Harvie; below again - Aaron Tsindos, Glenn Hazeldine and Roman Delo

What a difference a pandemic makes. When this production first caused audiences to roll in the STC’s aisles in 2020 it was a more carefree, even more innocent time. Now – post-pandemic but scarred by it, in a world that feels more dangerous and vicious than ever – the same audiences crave laughter and escape like never before.

And for two hours and 20 minutes, that’s what you get with No Pay? No Way! – adapted by Marieke Hardy from the Dario Fo/Franca Rame 70s classic farce and directed by Sarah Giles.

The success of the show is largely encapsulated in those four names: a wonderful original script and concept; a very fine translation and adaptation, and a director whose expertise with the inestimably dark art of comedy and farce is under-estimated at the amateur’s peril.

And then there’s the cast. Comedy isn’t about being funny. To be funny the actors must be deadly serious and not try to make audiences laugh – and therefore they need to be crazily skilled. So, gather together Mandy McElhinney, Glenn Hazeldine, Aaron Tsindos, Roman Delo and Emma Harvie, put them in a room with Sarah Giles and magic will probably happen, even if for many reasons they had only eleven days together.


The other thing about this night of laughter and tears is that the play is as timely and relevant as it was 50 years ago. And that’s a painful realisation. Antonia (McElhinney) and Margherita (Harvie) are working wives in working-class Milan. Their husbands (Hazeldine and Delo) are toiling factory workers at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing and the bosses are demanding more for less. Sound familiar?

The crunch comes when grocery prices rise 30% overnight and the hitherto good Catholic girls turn over the local supermarket and make off with its contents. The petrol-and-flame mix of Catholic guilt and Stalinist moralising is at the heart of what happens next. It involves false pregnancies, dog food, and canary seed, raids by the Polizia, ill-educated confusion (the husbands think it only mildly strange that a wife’s waters breaking produces brine and olives), plus a concealed corpse and a coffin and a lot of doors and unlikely avoidance.

It doesn’t bear further description because it’s that glorious rare combination of utterly bonkers and totally logical. You have to be there. It’s also important to be there to understand how the STC stage crew becomes involved in crucial industrial action and how the staging (set: Charles Davis, lighting: Paul Jackson) take on a recalcitrant life of their own. Politics is ever-present, both subtly and in-yer-face and the combination is irresistible.

The performances are everything one might hope for with McElhinney and Harvie echoing Buster Keaton and the Keystone Cops when not secreting fruit and veg about their persons; Hazeldine’s head almost explodes with the effort of containing his husbandly bewilderment and virtuous trade unionism; Delo is simply bewildered and beautifully outraged, while Tsindos’s various policemen teeter dangerously on the edge of overkill but pull back each time.


Momentum is maintained – physical and narrative – with the assistance of Steve Francis’s music and sound and Tim Dashwood’s unobtrusively essential fight and movement direction. When it comes to a heart-rending a cappella rendition of “Bella Ciao” the laughter finally stops: “This is the flower of the partisan - who Died for freedom - It is this flower of the partisan - Died for freedom! Bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao.”

Make of it what you will, the 1% have an even firmer grip on their golden perches. Meanwhile, laugh and think and laugh some more. Recommended without reservation.



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