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Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! Cygnet Theatre, Exeter

With zero hours contracts, the minimum wage and exorbitantly high rent and utility bills Dario Fo’s comedy about hard-up housewives is just as relevant today as it was in the 1970s.

The high speed Marxist-inspired farce was taken by the scruff of the boiler suit and raced through at machine gun speed by the cast of five at the Cygnet Theatre by the students of the Cygnet Company.

Their youthful enthusiasm and energy made up for a somewhat basic set and at times a lack of polish, most notably in the finale. The drama stands and falls on comic timing and pace. Director Alistair Ganley’s production had both and it was in part due to a cast that made the most of Fo’s sparkling dialogue and the play’s neatly constructed plot and numerous speeches.

Sofia Castro as the main protagonist Antonia has a breathless quality to her voice, as though she was always in a dash whilst swallowing the remains of a meal of pasta. This role suited her well as the thinking-on-her-feet Milanese housewife struggling to explain away her sudden accumulation of  free food in the autoriduzione shopping movement. Her accomplice in crime Margherita played with a series of enjoyable expressions ranging from the tragic to the exasperated by the malleable Jessica Parsons worked well as a double act as they tried to explain their way out of trouble.

Jake Sullivan as Giovanni was splendidly dead pan as the less than bright husband with his unfeasible sideburns and ability to enjoy the delights of rabbit head soup. Guy Dennys as Luigi gave strong support while Henry Hocking with a number of walk on parts threatened to steal the show with his posturing policeman, his flamboyant undertaker and doddery old man.

A quick fire cast but an exceptional script with its in jokes, its running jokes, its political truths and farcical construct. It’s a production that deserves a larger audience and a longer run.

Harry Mottram

Four stars