Interview with Conrad Nelson and Debbie McAndrew

Just prior to them taking over York Theatre Royal in October, we caught up with the theatrical powerhouse couple behind Northern Broadsides latest production.

Hello, who are you guys?
We are Conrad Nelson and Debbie McAndrew. Conrad is an actor and composer and the Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides. Debbie is an award-winning playwright and actress who you will remembers for playing Angie Freeman in Coronation Street.  
Why are you coming to the York Theatre Royal?
Northern Broadsides are thrilled to be returning to York Theatre Royal to co-produce with the theatre a new version of Dario Fo’s hilarious comedy, They don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! It’s a play that’s been performed all over the world and we’re thrilled to be premiring this exciting new version reset in Britain 2018 in York before it heads out on the road in a regional town near you.   
Tell us about They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay.
They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! (TDPWWP) is a comedy; a farce; a political satire. Most people will probably remember it by the more familiar and snappier title of, ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, which quite frankly I prefer. Italian author Dario Fo rewrote his original 1974 script and renamed it around 2010 and the new title was fixed in stone following his death in 2016. Fo was no slouch in his lifetime and is regarded as a major influence in world theatre together with long standing partner and wife Franca Rame. The play is Fo’s second most popular play after Accidental Death of an Anarchist which Northern Broadsides produced in 2008. It has been performed in over 35 countries. Dario Fo won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1997.  
The plot to They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! is pretty straightforward -Two working class women live in the same run-down apartment block. The cost of living is spiralling. Neither has paid their rent or utility bills for months and resort to stealing from the local supermarket. Worried that their husbands will discover their crime, the women concoct ever more outlandish strategies to avoid detection and chaos ensues.. 
The chaos that ensues is more difficult to describe- it’s much easier and much more fun to see it. 
Why adapt this play now?
 I like being British. We’ve always been able to embrace satire and have a healthy habit of being able to laugh at ourselves. That’s just as well because it’s difficult to recall a time when the country has felt quite so divided, rudderless and isolated. Our bespoke new version of They Don’t Pay? We won’t Pay! couldn’t be more-timely. Drama comments on the world we live in and the loves, losses and laughs that people have along the way. Fo’s genius is to use comedy as his chosen vehicle for comment on society and like all good satire his play holds the mirror up to reflect where we are today. Our genius, such as it is, is to commission a contemporary version of the play that looks at Britain in 2018. In the words of the great Oliver Hardy, “that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into to”  
What can audiences expect?
It’s going to be a funny, colourful and fast paced farce with a cracking cast including Steve Huison who audiences will know from the film The Full Monty and Coronation Street. Unusually the action is driven by a woman in her 50s. As with all good farces the action becomes increasingly more frenetic and improbable and as with all good satire it leaves us pondering about ourselves and the world we live in but whilst being swept along with the chaos and comedy to the very end.   
What’s it like working with Northern Broadsides?
I’ve been part of the company from the company’s start in 1992. I worked closely with the company’s founder, Barrie Rutter for 26 years until he stepped down earlier this year. I’ve been an actor, composer and TDPWWP will be my fourteenth Northern Broadsides production as a director. It remains a company with terrific energy and we are honest and passionate advocates of live theatre driven by the words of playwrights. We have enjoyed many wonderful experiences over the last 26 years producing classic drama including the works of William Shakespeare, but we’ve also been thrilled to commission new adaptations and new plays. One of the most gratifying and pleasing aspects of being a Broadsider is the wonderful rapport and openness that we enjoy with our audiences and the terrific camaraderie of the many alumni that have contributed to the success of the company over the years.   
Is being married while working together challenging?
I left this one for my wife to answer, but she’s not replied as yet. The back door has just closed and she may have gone on a very long walk…  
What’s next for you?
We’re delighted to have just received funding for a new play called Hot Lane that were producing with our company, Claybody Theatre later this year. In January 2019 Northern Broadsides are joining with our great friends at The New Vic Theatre in a new production of Shakespeare’s wonderful comedy, Much Ado about Nothing and looking forward to bringing a little love and romance back to York Theatre Royal. We’re also planning our first festival of new writing in partnership with The Writers Guild of Great Britain. If you’ve an idea and the passion and enthusiasm to write a play then please keep your eye on Broadsides website ( ) for more information later in the year.
If you’re wanting more before the end of the year (and who could blame you) then I’d encourage you to come to a through sung performance of Charles Dickens’ magic festive tale, A Christmas Carol. The score is written by Ashley Thompson and there will be two shows performed on 9th  December at the atmospheric Dean Clough Mills, Halifax. If you’ve not been then you’re in for a treat. For further information visit our website- or follow us on Twitter @NBroadsides or Instagram northern_broadsides

The Northern Broadsides and York Theatre Royal production of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! will be at York Theatre Royal from the 5-13 October. For tickets call 01904 623568 or visit 


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