Mandy McElhinney takes the lead in a stage comedy with bite

By Gill Canning

Mandy McElhinney takes the lead in a stage comedy with bite
This stage satire takes a look at what can occur when food becomes unaffordable for the masses.

‘No Pay? No Way!’ was written exactly 50 years ago by celebrated Italian husband-and-wife playwrights Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Back in 1974, Italy was in a period of social unrest, where inflation, unemployment and political scandals were rife, and their social comedy reflected this.

Performing the play today in 21st century Australia, it is remarkable how similar the landscape is.

At the outset, middle-aged housewife Antonia joins a group of women at the local supermarket who refuse to pay prices for food that have literally doubled overnight. In true Italian fashion, an informal protest is ignited and the shop is emptied.

Antonia ropes her younger, more timid friend Margherita into the scheme and when their husbands, Giovanni and Luigi arrive home, they must find places to hide all their stolen loot in their small apartments and on their person. Then just when they think they’ve gotten away with it, the police come knocking, hunting down the guilty parties.

The clever set rotates to reveal both the exterior and interior of Antonia and Giovanni’s apartment. Photograph / Daniel Boud

Art mirrors life

Right now in Australia, increasing numbers of shoppers (especially students and those on low incomes) are stealing food from the two major supermarket chains simply because they cannot
afford to pay the asking prices.

Last year, Coles announced 20 per cent stock losses from shoplifting (and food waste) while still making a $1.1b profit, and Woollies estimated theft made up a quarter of stock loss when it revealed its $1.6b profit margin.

It’s profits like these that make the women in ‘No Pay? No Way!’ feel they are entitled to steal when they cannot afford to feed their families.

As Antonia, Mandy McElhinney cements her position as one of Australia’s most versatile actresses. Perhaps best known to some as the likeable ‘Rhonda’ from the AAMI ads, she confidently inhabits this zesty Italian housewife with vigour, verve and impeccable comic timing. Emma Harvie as Margherita (‘Colin from Accounts’); Glenn Hazeldine as Giovanni (‘Colin from Accounts’) and Roman Delo as Luigi (‘Bump’, ‘Home and Away’) all give strong support but it is McElhinney’s play, on a gorgeous set that rotates to reveal both the exterior and interior of Antonia and Giovanni’s apartment.

It may not sound like it, but ‘No Pay? No Way!’’ is a comedy and the audience on the night I attended were in stitches. Behind the laughs however, is a serious social commentary where too
many working Australians (just like their Italian cousins 50 years ago) cannot afford to buy food.

‘No Pay? No Way!’
Sydney Theatre Company
Until 11 May, 2024


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