In the wake of the Casey Report and on the very day BBC News uncovered serious mistakes by the police in the investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, Tom Basden’s new adaptation of Accidental Death of an Anarchist opens at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket, following acclaimed runs at Sheffield and the Lyric Hammersmith.
The failings of the Met, and police forces across the world, have been prominent enough in the headlines, but anyone hoping to see change is likely to be in for a long wait. Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s original play is fifty years old and is based on the real-life death of Giuseppe Pinelli while being interviewed by Italian police.
Tom Basden’s modern adaptation is set in a London police station. A character known only as The Maniac realises that it was in this very station that an Italian train driver fell to his death from a fourth-floor window while being interrogated in connection with a bombing. Suspecting the police were involved, and against the findings of previous inquiries, The Maniac leads the key officers on a merry dance to expose what really happened.
All the world’s a stage, and it most definitely is for The Maniac, who, in this very meta-production believes he is the central character in a play, the others in the room are merely players… they just don’t realise it. The Maniac transforms into different guises, each more ridiculous and farcical than the last. Because this is unmistakably a farce, and not a pantomime as The Maniac reminds us. Yet, it’s also a remarkably astute take down of the police, of the establishment, and of privilege.
Daniel Raggett’s buoyant production is a relentless assault on the senses, in the main due to Daniel Rigby’s astonishing portrayal of The Maniac. Rigby is incredibly funny, both when delivering the dialogue and in the physical sense, leaping about and writing on walls with no care for consequence.
Anna Reid’s set is the police interview room, sitting at an angle for maximum effect, but it’s also The Maniac’s stage on which he will perform. Superintendent Curry (Tony Gardner), Detective Daisy (Tom Andrews), and Agent Joseph (Ro Kumar) set up the jokes, but it’s Daniel Rigby who brings home the bacon in this unmissable performance.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist has its audience howling for about ninety percent of the running time; sometimes resulting in us missing the next joke because the laughter was so loud. But when it comes to getting it’s point across, it never fails to hit the mark. The Maniac, and the play itself, pulls no punches when discussing the failings of the police, and by extension, the establishment, resulting in a ferociously funny play that will send shivers down spines at Scotland Yard.