"Millet soup with rabbits' heads"
by remotegoat reviewer for remotegoat on 19/03/15

What happens when the screw turns too tight? When those that should fight for them are institutionalised and toothless – where is the average citizens’ breaking point? These are the themes underlying ‘Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!’ – an Italian farce written in 1974; and they are still prescient today. Probably the most well-known play of Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, the English translation of the title has entered into our language and was the slogan of Poll Tax protestors in Luton in the early 80s. Fitting as Fo, as well as being a popular and respected entertainer (of many parts), was highly political.
This adaptation has been updated with contemporary British cultural references (having been first performed in 1981) – but the action has remained in 70s Milan. As well as adding references I wonder if he directing team made, or should have made, corresponding cuts. There are times when the dialogue seems overweight, and there are definitely jokes that get lost in the noise. They may also have benefitted from exploring the commedia dell’arte style Fo worked to resurrect. Some of the characters, notably the men, are charicatural; but this punter, at least, could have stomached a thicker slice of ham.
The action principally involves two married couples: Giovanni & Antonia (played by Jake Sullivan and Sofia Castro) and Luigi & Margherita (Guy Dennys and Jessica Parsons). It got off to a slow start with a scene between the two ladies, who seemed to me to lack confidence in their roles. The two men, by contrast made a good comic double act (like Badger from Breaking Bad in a sketch with Paul Whitehouse) and come across as much more confident, both in their own performance and the form. Special mention should be made of Henry Hocking, the hardest working cast member, who played: a police sergeant, a police inspector, an undertaker and Giovanni’s father. All small parts but requiring considerable range and performed with aplomb (despite some rather distracting boots).
The pace picks up toward the end of act one, but dropped again slightly in act two. Act two also saw a few lines slipping – I suspect this was down to first night nerves more than anything. Cygnet are a training company so these are not ‘seasoned old pro’s luv’ and farce is an incredibly demanding form of theatre. Any company does well to produce consistent laughs – as these do.
As they grow in confidence, conquer those first night nerves and pick up the pace with more frenetic physical delivery, this could make a real hit worth seeing again. As it is it was an enjoyable evening with plenty of chuckles but no outright hilarity.

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