Did a ‘suspect’ fall to his death or was he pushed by police – classic farce alludes to current woes…
FUNNY, fast and frenetic, ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ is a total hoot, but it shouldn’t leave you with a warm glow.
And that is just how original playwrights Dario Fo and Franca Rame intended – a farce and biting satire, it tells the story of a man who is in a police station and then bamboozles, dissembles and mops up – metaphorically, making his interrogators, the police, look like the fools and liars that they are…he exposes the truth behind their ‘cover’.
Adapted by Sheffield Theatres’ writer Tom Basden, the action starts a little innocuously, almost banally. And that is quite deliberate – Fo and Rame’s original is ‘inspired’ by a real man – Giuseppe Pinelli who was wrongly picked up and interrogated about a terrorist bombing in Italy in 1969 and fell out of a window of a police station to his death.
Fo and Rame’s original takes every line from the subsequent inquiry and the original police interviews with Pinelli when he was brought in.
In an undoubted nod to the tragic Pinelli, they make the central character referred to, as The Maniac, our hero and central protagonist.
Played brilliantly by Daniel Rigby, the play positively fizzles and so begins the performance, and the play, and the characters who will come into themselves and play their part.
Yes, there is the ‘reality’ of the action in front of us and the understanding that this is a performance and a theatrical experience too. Those familiar with Fo & Rame, or this type of work (inspired by Fo and Rame), will not have to adjust their usual theatrical settings – for others, as it was for this critic, there will need to be some adjustment.
Deeply political, this version is contemporary and has lots of references to everyday news items.
With our own Met Police Force in so much disrepute, what happens before us, is a cruel reminder that farce and reality – can be two sides of the same coin, all too sadly.
Apparently, some of the gags are re-written daily and for the most part, work – there’s little time to breathe – as one joke follows quickly after another and sometimes, they come at you in a torrent, in the first half. There were few calm or quiet moments – a good sign for a play that is meant to be bitingly funny.
Rigby assumes a number of personalities and takes on different accents – he is truly marvellous and very much the conductor and conduit through which everything will flow.
His energy and delivery are central and the rest of the cast and director Daniel Raggett have all found a pace and flow to which the audience responded positively.
On a more personal note, perhaps the adjustment and the unfamiliarity of Fo and his work, required slightly more effort and while the first half is absorbing and involving, and indeed humorous – on occasions, it felt a bit too fast and that the import was slightly dissipated in the sheer inanity and zaniness of events on stage.
Nevertheless, the second half seemed to move at a shade less of a frenetic pace, and still managed to keep everyone on board and continue with its deep and cutting humour.
Putting on a play like this is not necessarily easy – even though the original’s longevity (first performed in 1970) and Fo’s enduring legacy as a Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1977, signal a very great voice, there is much that can go wrong.
There is a great supporting cast in Constable Joseph (Shane David-Joseph); Superintendent Curry (Tony Gardiner); Detective Daisy (Jordan Metcalfe); Fi Phelan (Journalist)/Constable Jackson (Ruby Thomas) and Inspector Burton (Howard Ward).
There’s a wonderful set and lighting (with lighting design by Jai Morjaria) which enhance the claustrophobia and absurdity of the character’s positions, which often shift and make no sense by the end.
While this is a funny play and very entertaining – there is also a deeper objective as you would expect of someone with Fo’s intent. And Basden has not shied away from throwing the spotlight on the Met Police, which continues to be under pressure.
Sheffield Theatres, which has brought this show to the Lyric in Hammersmith, has teamed up with Inquest – an independent charity that provides expertise on state related deaths and investigations. At the end there is a statistic that is shocking and should remind us that accountability is another important principle in a fair(er) society.
It’s a highly enjoyable time in the theatre and a powerful reminder that justice is best served by those in authority being honest and sincere – and not playing power games or looking to save their own skins at any cost.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)
‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ – Dario Fo & Franca Rame, adapted by Tom Basden, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Lyric Square, King Street, London W6 0QL
From (March 13) to April 8
020 8741 6850
More info/booking: https://lyric.co.uk/shows/accidental-death-of-an-anarchist/
A Lyric Hammersmith and Sheffield Theatres co-production, in association with Playful Productions and directed by Daniel Raggett