Paul Anderson, review of Revolting Peasants by Patrick Prior (Theatre Royal Stratford East), Tribune, 23 March 1990
The most extraordinary thing about the poll tax is not its unfairness – that’s what we’d expect from a Conservative government – but its stupidity. In a society with a high level of geographical mobility, it’s almost designed to be evaded on a massive scale. And evaded it will be, regardless of noisy “campaigns of non-payment” (who’s going to be a martyr if quiet avoidance is possible?) or the pleas of Labour politicans for “civic responsibility” and patience until Neil Kinnock gets to Number Ten.
As Merlin Jenkins, the poll tax registration officer in this wonderful farce, puts it before announcing his resignation: “People just disappear. There’s estates round here like the Marie Celeste.” The humour of Revolting Peasants relies on the absurd failure of the political class – represented here by George, a Kinnockite Labour Party stalwart (complete with red tie but often without trousers) to recognise that, like it or not, no one who can get away with it is going to cough up.
George has nothing but platitudes to spout. “The law is the law and you get nowhere by breaking it!” he exclaims after being mauled by a police dog; “There’ll be a few expulsions down the Walworth Road, eh Neil?” he asks his picture of Kinnock after his Labour Party branch passes a non-payment policy.
Meanwhile, his wife Mary has falsified their poll tax form (claiming that George is dead and she has a babyt her neighbour takes a fancy to the poll tax man and the police suspect a drugs ring…
This is superb popular theatre, with an amazing eye for bad jokes, lewd suggestions and crazy predicaments. Bill Thomas is suitably hassled and useless as George, Yvonne Edgell wonderfully competent as Mary. All in all, it’s one of the best comedies on the London stage this year, ranking with Brian Behan’s Boots for the Footless at the Tricycle. It particularly deserves to be seen by anyone standing for a council seat in May.