So if you haven’t heard about Northern Broadsides’ latest show They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! – you have now. Awesome playwright Deborah McAndrew has adapted the play, and I got chance to ask her a few questions…
How tricky was it adapting the play to a Brexit Britain era?
It wasn’t especially tricky to adapt the play for our times as we have comparable issues with food poverty, though for different reasons. Brexit Britain is the default context because I have set the play in the here and now – but this was trickier, as we haven’t yet left the EU and the full effects of that are yet to be understood and felt. Also, our audience will probably be divided (like the country) so it was important to walk a careful line and not to alienate anyone. The Brexit gags are mainly about uncertainty and a lack of competence, clarity and coherence by all our political leaders, which is something that’s present in the original play. It’s not for me to use this play as a vehicle to proselytise for any particular camp on that issue, and the script certainly doesn’t come down hard for Leave or Remain – though, if you buy me a drink after, I’ll tell you what I think.
What are the key messages you hope the audience will take away?
I think Dario Fo wants to make his audience think, to question themselves and their own assumptions, and to laugh at themselves too. He reworked this play himself towards the end of his life, and he altered the key message at the end to one that reflected his own political journey. We have honoured this, but for our time and place we still want to say that, even if the old dividing lines in politics have changed, there is hope for a more just and compassionate world.
Your husband Conrad Nelson is directing the play. What’s it really like working as a husband and wife team? What are the biggest challenges, and the greatest rewards?
We work together pretty well, and we enjoy it. The biggest challenge is not working all the time. We’re very bad at carving out time together that’s not about work – but we have lots of interests to distract us. Con and I think in a very similar way about what works and what doesn’t work in the theatre. We have a shorthand and shared instincts, but we also have clear lines of jurisdiction. Put very simply, it’s up to me what the characters say, and it’s up to him how they say it.
Can people expect laugh out loud comedy, or something a little more subtle?
Oh, this is a farce. It’s full on and fast and absolutely ridiculous. That is the genius of Dario Fo and I think Conrad is a very good director of his work because he’s got great timing and brilliant instincts for physical comedy, which has to be very technically accurate. When we did Accidental Death of an Anarchist in 2008 there were moments when the performance had to be paused to allow the audience time to recover, they were laughing so much. They Don’t Pay! is a very funny play, and not subtle at all in performance. I think the subtlety comes in the few moments of reflection, and in what the audience might talk about in the bar afterwards or think about on the way home.
If you could choose any play, book or film to adapt for the stage for a modern audience next which would you choose?
That’s a tough one. Last year I adapted one of Arnold Bennett’s novels, and I’d love to do another. Many of his best books are set in a fictionalised version of Stoke-on-Trent called the Five Towns. The Card is a warm and funny novel about a lad about town called Denry Machin. I fancy giving that one a go. Directed by Conrad, of course!
They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! premieres at York Theatre Royal from 5th to 13th October 2018,