Can't Pay? Won't Pay!

Written by Dario Fo (translated by Lino Pertile, adapted by Bill Colvill and Robert Walker)

Thurs 16th July - Sat 18th July & Mon 20th July - Sat 25th July 1987

Directed by Alison Habens & Frank Lyons

Inflation has reached an all-time high. Frustration breaks the tension as Margherita leads a revolt at the local supermarket, and looting guts the building. Margherita, and her friend Antonia, try desperately to hide their 'liberated' goods before their husbands and the police catch up with them. 'Can't Pay? Won't Pay!' is a wild farce that will not only show you how to survive on a diet of dog food and bird seed but will also ensure a good night out.

AuthorDario Fo

Dario Fo (b 1926)

Italian playwright Dario Fo is one of the world's most frequently performed living playwrights. His dramatic work employs comedic methods of the ancient Italian commedia dell'arte, a theatrical style popular with the proletarian classes and his writing has often been controversial and subject to censorship or reprisals by the authorities.

Dario Fo was born in San Giano, a small town on Lago Maggiore in the province of Varese. His mother Pina Rota, was a woman of great imagination and talent and his maternal grandfather was also a strong influence; the young Dario spent childhood holidays at his farm in Lomellina. Dario spent his childhood moving from one town to another, as his father's postings were changed at the whim of the railway authorities. In 1940 he moved to Milan (commuting from Luino) to study at the Brera Art Academy. After the war, he studied architecture at the Polytechnic but in 1945 he turned his attention to stage design and theatre decor and begun to improvise monologues.

During his architecture studies and while working as decorator and assistant architect, Dario entertained his friends with tales as tall as those he heard in the lakeside taverns of his childhood. In 1951 he met and married Franca Rame, with whom he has subsequently collaborated many times. In 1953 he wrote and directed a satirical play 'Il dito nell'occhio'. After initial success both government and church authorities censored his work. He later gave up architecture in disgust at the level of corruption he found. He continued to write and produce plays within which he spoke out against state corruption and political scandal and openly criticised the church.

In 1997 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature and he currently owns and operates a theatre company in Italy - one of three that he founded with his wife.

TranslatorLino Pertile

Lino Pertile (b 1940)

Lino Pertile is an Italian linguist, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and a former House Master of Eliot House. Born in Italy near Padua, he taught at the universities of Reading, Sussex, and Edinburgh before coming to Harvard. His specialty is Dante scholarship, a field in which he has published widely. In 2005 he was named Harvard College Professor, a special teaching recognition awarded to those faculty members who have most invested their time and energy in teaching undergraduates and in 2010 he became director of Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.

PlayCan't Pay? Won't Pay!

Like most of Fo's work it was written in response to specific political needs. Written in the mid 1970s 'Can't Pay? Won't Pay!' focuses on the problems of economic crisis and job redundancies.

Set in a working class suburb of Milan, 'Can't Pay? Won't Pay!' was presented in London in 1978. It was a success and was revived for London's West End in 1981 where it ran for 2 years. The play centres on a spontaneous demonstration by housewives against rising prices at the local supermarket. Crazy disasters pile on top of each other as two of them try to cope with the results of their own actions - without telling their husbands what they have been up to.

The Bench Production

Can't Pay? Won't Pay! poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


AntoniaIngrid Corrigan
MargheritaJude Salmon
GiovanniPeter Holding
SergeantPete Woodward
LuigiVincent Adams
InspectorWard Peterwood
UndertakerWoody Peters
Old ManPot Wayward


Directors Alison Habens
Frank Lyons
Stage Manager Ruth Prior
Another Stage Manager Damon Wakelin
Lighting Jacquie Penrose
Cerys Hogg
Richard Stacey
Sound John Valentine
Costumes Robbie Cattermole
Ruth Prior
Belinda Egginton
Set Design David Penrose
Set Construction David Hemsley-Brown
Pete Codd
Front of House Jo German

Directors' Notes

This play is set in a 'modest working class flat' to which Antonia returns from the local supermarket after indulging in some "autoreduzione" (self-service) with her housewife comrades. The play is Fo's first feminist comedy insofar as it focuses on the problems in the economy from the viewpoint of the housewife struggling to afford the ever rising prices in the shops. Some might argue the play has lost its poignancy at a time when inflation has been brought down to single figures. Fo warned us however, in 'Can't Pay? Won't Pay! that the struggle to make ends meet and the loss of jobs is the cost that working class carry in the fight against inflation. The question for the mid 1980s is whether "autoreduzione" will return with self-service by the unemployed.

If with this play you open your mouths to laugh perhaps you will also open your minds.

Alison Habens and Frank Lyons


The NewsSue Wilkinson


Everything goes in 'Can't Pay? Won't Pay!' presented by the Bench Theatre at the Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant. Women empty supermarket shelves as a protest against rising inflation, their husband pilfer bags of sugar which have fallen off the back of a lorry, and a scene stealer, Damon Wakelin, keeps emerging from the wings to remove the door.

Ad-libs ring up quickly and Pete Woodward gets more parts than a Lego set - but it is hilarious, riotous, fun from the pen of Dario Fo, brought to witty and intelligent life by the amateur acting company. Phantom pregnancies, saints, and curses are all invented to stop the police fingering the culprits who raided the store. Coffins and undertakers both appear in the plot to dispose of the spoils before the spouses find out what their partners have done.

Though written as a political statement about the life and times of Italy in the 1970s, its themes of unemployment, class division, and women's role in society strike a relevant note in 1980s Britain. Ingrid Corrigan and Jude Salmon get the play off to a witty and fast pace which never slips. I think it is the best and most enjoyable thing I have seen the Bench do so far. Do pay to see 'Can't Pay? Won't Pay!' which runs until Saturday, July 25.

The News, 17th July 1987

Production Photographs