Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Dario Fo, translated by Simon Nye
Donmar Warehouse
(2003)

This is one of those occasions where the appeal of a production rests entirely with two people. Rather than translator, it would be more appropriate to name Simon Nye as the adapter. He has updated Nobel prize-winner Dario Fo's script considerably, with many contemporary British allusions.

Nye is the man behind Men Behaving Badly and it is his brand of humour that dominates Fo's harsh, anarchic satire. The other drawcard is Rhys Ifans. In his own words, he is a lanky Welshman who hasn't acted in a theatre for six years. He takes control of the show as the madman who becomes a cross between Eric Morecambe and Alastair Sim in An Inspector Calls, from the second scene.

In fact, the whole of the first scene is given over to his manic stream of consciousness, deftly swapping persona and accents at half-minute intervals while dressed as Spiderman. You will not feel indifferent to his performance in this production: the choice is either to love him or hate him.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a devastating satire on police corruption that tells the true story of an Italian anarchist who mysteriously fell to his death from the window of a police station. What is remarkable is that it prefigures the death of Steve Biko in South Africa in similar circumstances by some seven years.

The police and political corruption that was rife in Italy in the sixties is not so obviously mirrored in Britain today. Therefore, some of Fo's funniest and most sinister lines miss the mark. "The Judiciary is still the policeman's best friend - or collaborator" raised no reaction.

These are subsumed by a brand of humour that is so much more popular today. This particularly involves extraordinary movements and voices as well as much of Fo's slapstick. This builds to a final spectacular collapse of Simon Higlett's set as a bomb explodes - not for the fainthearted.

A cast of good character actors has been assembled around the madman with Adrian Scarborough particularly strong as the bristling, bumptious Police Superintendent. Their highpoint is around the interval when they present a series of musical pastiches from Barbershop through Gangsta Rap to Dylan.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to try and beg a ticket - the run is almost sold out - must depend entirely upon a love of Men Behaving Badly and/or Rhys Ifans.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher