Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Dario Fo, adapted by Tom Basden
Sheffield Theatres
Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse, Sheffield

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Daniel Rigby (the Maniac) in Accidental Death of an Anarchist Credit: Helen Murray
Jordan Metcalfe in Accidental Death of an Anarchist Credit: Helen Murray
Howard Ward in Accidental Death of a Anarchist Credit: Helen Murray

A hilarious and joyful evening in the newly named Tanya Moiseivitsch Playhouse at the Crucible is provided by Tom Basden’s adaptation of Dario Fo’s brilliant farce about police corruption.

The adaptation brings the play up to date and places it in a British context at a time when incidents of police brutality, racial discrimination and cover up are hitting the headlines. Fo’s play is based on an incident in an Italian police station when a suspect under cross-examination was ‘defenestrated’ or fell out of the window.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, farce is an ideal way of taking a swipe at national institutions, including the judiciary, the church and the press, while drawing the audience in to enjoyable collusion.

In the opening scene, we meet a stranger, later identified as a Maniac, who enters a room in a police station and proceeds to indulge his passion for ‘acting mania’, which leads him to assume a variety of roles and disguises which enable him to confront the baffled police who have been responsible for the ‘accidental’ death of a supposed ‘anarchist’ who fell from a fourth floor window during police custody.

The production draws together exceptional talent. Basden’s adapted playscript is an essential starting point, Daniel Raggett’s direction is brimming with comic invention, the simple set designed by Anne Reid provides an ideal context for visual jokes and at the heart of the play is an outstanding performance by Daniel Rigby as the Maniac, ably supported by a cast who contribute so much to the unfolding of the plot and key moments of farcical action.

I don’t know when I last saw a production that cracks on with such incredible pace. Rigby is largely responsible for this, on stage for most of the action, delivering his lines at breakneck speed with hardly time to draw breath. In contrast, some of his funniest moments are in slow and protracted mime. How could getting down from a table take so long and be so arduous?

Howard Ward as Burton and Tony Gardner as the Superintendent base their performances on realistic characterisation, which initially provides an anchor for the plot but gives way to comic business and perfect timing as they get caught up in the chaos created by the Maniac. Burton struggles to recognise the Maniac when he is wearing an eye patch, a ridiculous brown wig that flops forward and backwards, a false leg and a female hand. Fun for the audience! Gardner is convincingly terrified when close to defenestration himself.

A powerful sequence when Jordan Metcalfe as Daisy, the most brutal of the police officers, re-enacts the way he entered the room to interview the supposed 'anarchist' who is being held for questioning. The facial expression and the threatening walk inspire fear. Terrifying! Once more, the farce is effective because it is based on the real.

Ruby Thomas is effective as a silent female police officer in the first scene and as the cool and sexually confident journalist Fi Phelan in the second half. Her delivery is also very fast but always clear and comprehensible. Shane David-Joseph is an important stage presence, even though constantly repressed, and a vital member of the ensemble in sequences of comic business. Notable is the musical link between the two acts.

This is a brilliant production and I can’t wait to see it again. I have no doubt that it is going to be award-winning and a great success on the national and international circuit.

Reviewer: Velda Harris