Low Pay? Don't Pay!

Dario Fo, in a new translation by Joseph Farrell
Salisbury Playhouse
(2010)

Production photo

This new English version by Joseph Farrell, Professor of Italian studies at the University of Strathclyde, is either timely or not, according to your taste.

When the play, in its original form and language, first appeared in 1974 in Milan, it was said that it could just as well have been set in "who governs Britain in 1974?"

So now Joseph Farrell, who clearly knows a thing or two about Fo, his land and his language, comes up with a version tailored to the aftermath of the recent credit crunch. In fact, just in time for the 2010 "who governs Britain?".

The original styling was of "an hilarious, sharply satirical take on individual responsibility and politics".

It remains, of course, essentially political - which is one reason why I do not warm to it. For one thing, it takes its politics very seriously indeed and consequentially is not remotely nearly as funny as, say, Anyone for Dennis which did not take anything seriously.

Yet having declared that I did not find Low Pay? Don't Pay! in any way amusing, I must add that I was in a minority of a few at the first performance on 7th April in Salisbury.

However, while there is not a great deal of laughter around the theatre during the first half, well before the interval, the laughs are building and by early in the second half, much belly laughter is to be heard.

Perhaps my problem, and that of quite a few of my neighbours, is that our present financial plight is no laughing matter.

Neither, for that matter, are the technical details of waters breaking on the cusp of maternity. Again, many of our Wiltshire friends clearly find all this hugely amusing. You pays your money

Now, as the lady said, to minor matters: the production by Paul Hunter, co-founder of Told By An Idiot Theatre Company, is strange. I refuse to criticise the actors for the excessive shouting which renders much dialogue indistinct (the director's responsibility surely?).

I don't know if the director and his company could learn something from the treatment by an established West End team of an old fashioned English farce, though I suspect so. I am sure, however, that they would all have profited from witnessing almost any one of the last four productions at Salisbury Playhouse.

That said, credit to Rachel Donovan (Antonia), Greg Haiste (Giovanni), Michael Hodgson (Luigi) and some to Catherine Kinsella (Margherita) - there would have been more if she didn't shout quite so much.

Some interesting performances, too, from Nick Haverson as variously Sergeant, Inspector, Undertaker, Old Man and others.

Michael Vale's design is also puzzling. The curtain backdrop is of the Pellizzo da Volpedo painting of "The Fourth Estate".

That apart, and we don't see it all the time, the settings are a match for the politics.

I hope that others, who, like me are encountering Dario Fo for the first time, will find the experience more to their liking. It may be simply a matter of the Italian sense of humour or perhaps I have seen too much Yes Prime Minister!

The production continues at Salisbury Playhouse until 24th April 2010.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole