Accidental Death of an Anarchist was originally written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame in 1970, a point referenced numerous times throughout this updated and very meta version itself. In the 50 years since it originally premiered, this story of a strange death in police custody and the ensuing cover-up – based on true events, by the way – has remained relevant, perhaps more so now than ever before. That’s a sad indictment of society, but it makes for a hilarious play.
The story is that of The Maniac, played with mischievous mirth by BAFTA award winner Daniel Rigby. He is being questioned by police when he realises something; this is the same police station where a so-called anarchist fell/jumped/was pushed – the jury is literally still out – from a fourth-floor window. He seizes his opportunity to teach those involved a lesson and to satisfy his craving for performance. And so begins this farce of costume changes, wigs, and various accents as The Maniac becomes increasingly embroiled in a cover-up and the subsequent fall-out.
And that could have been enough. That would have made for an entertaining evening of fun and belly laughs, and the audience would have been happy. Yet what Fo and Rame and modern adaptor Tom Basden have done is to run a thin blue line of discomfort through everything that is said and done. You laugh, but you are also keenly aware that this is real. True story, real police corruption. People die in police custody every year (a fact that is displayed starkly on the wall of the police station after the bows have taken place – the final reminder that having fun is fine, but there is a message to be listened to here. It’s not subtle, this play, but then, perhaps it shouldn’t be). These facts about how the police are not necessarily the heroes we want them to be are sprinkled throughout, undercutting the merriment with a quick jab of truth. As an audience member, it hurts. It works. This is what satire should be.
The cast offers exceptionally authentic performances, each one something that would have been a caricature in less skilled hands, but Tom Basden and director Daniel Raggett, along with the cast themselves, have added depth to each character. Tony Gardner, as Superintendent Curry, who wants to be authoritative but who goes along with everything the Maniac suggests, is flawless. Jordan Metcalfe plays Detective Daisy, a swaggering dolt who doesn’t seem to be able to detect his way out of a wet paper bag, is a treat.
Daniel Rigby’s Maniac cleverly corners corrupt coppers with panache, happily winking at the audience and breaking the fourth wall with gleeful abandon. The audience is in on the joke – we’re one step ahead of the police, and seeing what is going to happen next is deliciously poetic.