Does Dario Fo’s holy anger transfer to London in 2023?
“Theatre which reflects the real political situation prevailing today, by depicting the injustice and oppression of society, and by exposing the people who wield the power”.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist was first performed in 1970, and it played a part in developing what we called in those days the new left, a key driver of which was what we called alternative theatre. Neither of these concepts has stood the test of time, but has the play?
To some extent, yes. The press night audience laughed and cheered and whooped and stamped and stood up to give an ovation, but press night audiences are like that, sometimes.
It was certainly funny, though often in the harmless manner of a Whitehall farce. There is a lot of fun with artificial hands, breaking bits of scenery, falling off tables, and misunderstandings. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud lines. “Get your finger out of your arse and keep your nose clean.” “With a different finger, I hope?”
There were some nice nods to the audience: when the scene changes from the third floor to the fourth floor, an actor changes the number by the door and winds up the backdrop outside the window to give you a slightly higher view of the office blocks outside.
But for me it did not have the political bite that it had in 1970.
What it tries to do, very sensibly, is to bring the play up to date and locate it in London. The anarchist has been thrown out of a fourth floor window, not by Italian carabinieri, but by the Metropolitan police. And it is true, as we are reminded in the play, that since 1990, there have been 1850 deaths in police custody or following contact with police in England and Wales, but just two officers have been successfully prosecuted for manslaughter.
The problem is that the bumbling, panic-stricken and venal police officers on stage at the Lyric Hammersmith do not seem anything like wicked enough to be pillars of the force that nurtured, protected and enabled the murderer of Sarah Everard.
The Met is now desperately in need of reform before it becomes an oppressor rather than a protector. No one doubts that the 20 year career of David Carrick, who has pleaded guilty to 49 charges relating to women or children, including 24 counts of rape, is just the tip of the iceberg. Rapists not only get into the force, but stay there, and the culture is such that pictures of murdered women are circulated in WhatsApp groups and considered “banter.” Londoners have pretty well given up hoping for a response to minor crimes; they are lucky if a bored officer takes a statement.
Basden tries to capture this. “It’s a free country” says one of his police officers “for now, until we can get this Public Order Act through Parliament.” But he is hampered rather than helped by the original, written (though the late Dario Fo would be horrified to know it) in a purer, more innocent age.
The cast is mostly engaging and energetic, and good at physical comedy. The standout for me was Ruby Thomas as a journalist investigating the Met.
But I felt that the lead, Daniel Rigby, who started his career as a standup comedian, began very noisily and maniacally, and had nowhere to go. He threw away the force of many of his lines because he delivered them very fast at the top of his voice. Director Daniel Raggett should surely have told him to vary the pace and pitch.
Raggett writes in the programme: “I’m obsessed with this moment which Fo describes…. of watching the laughter on the audience’s face get stuck and turn into a grimace as they realise how close the events they’re watching are to real life.” But he has not quite managed to reproduce that moment.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame
New adaptation by Tom Basden
Directed by Daniel Raggett
Director: Daniel Raggett
Designer: Anna Reid
Lighting Designer: Jai Morjaria
Sound Designer: Annie May Fletcher
Video designer: Matt Powell
Produced by Sheffield Theatres and Lyric Hammersmith
Running Time: Two hours with an interval
Booking to 8th April 2023
London W6 0QL
Box Office: 020 8741 6850
Reviewed by Francis Beckett at the Lyric Hammersmith
on 17th March 2023