Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Lyric Hammersmith, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writers: Dario Fo and Franca Rame

Adapted by: Tom Basden

Director: Daniel Raggett

This fabulous new production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist is an unforgettable theatrical experience. Brilliantly adapted by Tom Basden, it is a biting, bang-up-to-the-minute satire of the British establishment, in particular, of corruption within the police force. Each minute is packed with jokes, word play and punchy references to everything from governmental WhatsApp groups to the most recent of police cover-ups.

The play, first premiered in 1970, was written by Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame. The basic plot is both simple and deliciously surreal. We’re in Inspector Burton’s office where we meet The Maniac, a super-accomplished fraudster who proudly proclaims himself a histrionomaniac – he’s obsessed with acting, metamorphosing into any number of characters. The police have closed the case of the eponymous anarchist, whose death from the window of this very office they have covered up as being accidental. By posing as a number of authority figures, The Maniac forces the shambling team to tie themselves in knots, their elaborately concocted report of the death exposed as the absurdity it is.

Daniel Rigby is beyond fantastic as The Maniac, a marvel of exuberant energy with no off switch. It’s not just the central characters he impersonates – the judge supposedly investigating the handling of the case and later a very dodgy forensics expert – but the second-by-second switches into a myriad other possibilities. He delights in breaking the fourth wall, he adopts a manic grin, he bursts into ‘Nessun dorma’, he leaps onto a table or milks the comic possibilities of being an elderly man unable to find his footing. He convinces the officers that he’s on their side, somehow persuading them at the whole case depends on their belting out a rousing chorus of ‘Bella Ciao’.

The confined physical space of a bland office is mined for possibilities by designer Anna Reid. The window is occasionally slid open to the sounds of a busy city street below. There is are a couple of fabulous sight-gags as we supposedly move from the third floor office to an identical one on the fourth floor. Rigby bounds around, marking up what they know about the case not just on a white board, but all over the walls. The police have claimed they pulled off one of the Anarchist’s shoes as he fell from the window. But the body was found wearing two shoes. ‘Can there have been a third shoe, one contained within another?’, The Maniac asks with glee, happily drawing a secret inner shoe inside the one he’s drawn. He rattles off questions, apologising, in his words, for his Paxmanesque pedantry.

Rigby is ably supported by the rest of the ensemble, in particular Tony Gardner, every inch the pompous Superintendent and Jordan Metcalfe as the gormless Detective Daisy. Howard Ward as Inspector Burton is very much the dinosaur, resisting diversity and inclusion initiatives – there’s a great gag about unconscious bias of which he is the living embodiment.

Daniel Raggett’s faultless direction means there’s never a dull moment. The laughs aren’t just one-a-minute – there seems to be one every second. A fantastic show.

Runs until 8 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Unforgettable theatrical experience

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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