The Accidental Death of an Anarchist - Review

First reaction to ‘The Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ is excitement and pleasure in a play that provokes an active and radical engagement with the political scene. The diminishing potency of the left demands a shot in the arm: once possible from playwrights Wesker or Stoppard, there are few left to provide it on stage. (David Hare, just.)

Dario Fo’s play is set in the doldrums of the recent past. Although written as a response to actual events in Milan
during the 1970’s, Fo sanctioned constant updating and adaptation to reflect current political mores – some of which remain unchanging. We know that political corruption is endemic, that many a true word is spoken in jest – and that you could probably never trust an Italian.

The story, like life, is unclear to start with and remains a mystery. Characters are limitlessly fluid as they ttempt to grapple with the unknowable. Four bent coppers, one beautiful journalist and one lunatic impersonator with papers to prove his psychotic identity) ask one central question: did the anarchist jump or was he pushed? The fourth wall disappears as the cast desperately look for the answer and perhaps the audience can help? The play becomes a play within a play, as characters shift identity and rush about the stage with the violent energy of a
farce, occasionally singing loudly in Italian and dancing together along the way.

Des Potton proved comic genius with his portrayal of Darry Burrill in Sean O’Casey’s ‘End of the Beginning’ for the NVT in 2014 : his ‘Harpagon’ in Moliere’s ‘ Miser’ (2015) went to the opposite end of the scale. As ‘ Maniac’ he was the central character, the Fool of the commedia dell’ Arte and no one could have been more brilliantly over the top. Bouncing around in fright wigs with an occasional glass eye and removable wooden prostheses, he was exhilarating to watch with a performance which raised the entire cast to stunning levels of acting ability. Nick Richards, tormentor in chief, aided and abetted by the perfectly sinister Pissani of Robert Purchase, bloke-bonded Culann Smyth and Jack Lewellyn Roberts, sweetly naïve as Constable. Heather Andrews gives a wonderful, feisty performance as the only woman on stage.

Director Rod Lewis knew the play from its London run in the 1980’s and it stayed in his mind — I can see why.

Louise Schweitzer