Writer: Dario Fo
Adapted by: Bill Colvil And Robert Walker
Director: Rob Salmon
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Fo’s 1974 farce may have originally poked fun at the Italian establishment but Bill Colvil and Robert Walker’s adaptation shifts the action firmly to the UK. As both food costs and unemployment rise, riots break out and a supermarket proves to be a prime target. As the looters grab any food they can, the results of Annie’s haul is somewhat eclectic. Bird seed, dog food and frozen rabbit heads are not the first things that spring to mind for a gourmet meal. Desperate to hide her crime from husband George and the police, the stage is set for fast-paced farce.
Add in two fake pregnancies, a series of policemen that bear an uncanny likeness to each other, and enough slapstick action to fill a circus, and the absurdity levels rise. Despite the surreal plot, the characters are so well drawn that it is conversely utterly believable.
Though rooted in farce, there’s also a prevalent social commentary here, political policy and capitalism coming in for some savage attacks. It’s a difficult mix to pull off for any company, but one that the actors of the New Wolsey Young Company pull off with aplomb.
Performed with split-second comic timing, an acute eye for detail and an impressive physicality, these young actors demonstrate impeccable stage craft and, while milking every drop of comic potential, never lose the detail in their characterisation.
There’s not a weak link in the company as layer upon layer of absurdity is revealed. There’s real chemistry among the quintet of Jack Brett, Hannah Carpenter, George Harvison, Rosi Spall and Steve Withers, every gesture, every inflection pitched to deliver maximum farcical effect.
Rob Salmon’s direction keeps just the right side of absurd, allowing the comedy to flow from the physicality and mounting chaos, without ever losing sight of, however tenuous, a grip on reality. The set, which Salmon also designed, also plays a key part in the action, hiding plenty of secrets and adding its own comic elements.
Fo’s script may reveal in its over the top absurdity but there’s real drama beneath the slapstick and in this current revival a real sense of the now. Topical, comic and beautifully conceived, this is a shining example of the quality of work our young actors can produce. A production worth catching whatever the price.