Lyric Hammersmith, London – until 8 April 2023
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
In the 50 plus years since Accidental Death of an Anarchist was first written (based on true events) by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, it has remained relevant. The story is one of chaos, collusion, and lies.
A man, known only as a The Maniac, is being questioned by the police for fraud when he realises that this is the very same police station where an alleged anarchist fell to their death from a fourth floor window. A force of nature and arch fraudster, he seizes the moment and infiltrates the police using a bag a cunning disguises and props to get to the bottom of what happened that fateful night, and unpick the layers of a possible/probable police coverup.
Always a performer, The Maniac pretending to be a high court judge with the help of some talc in the hair and a pair of half moon glasses, conducts the chaos with precision, getting everyone to do just what he wants. The police officers’ stories begin to unravel and the action becomes increasingly absurd. For a moment you think this is ridiculous and then you remember what’s in the news everyday and it’s a laugh or cry situation. As the director Daniel Raggett says, “the comedy leaves you with a seed of anger – and send you home still thinking about the issues”.
Adapted for 2023 by Tom Basden, it takes aim at the current government and their policies on immigration and taxation, and the Metropolitan Police and their decisions. Daniel Raggett’s production is extremely funny and the action happens at such a pace, you hardly notice that any time has passed at all. Supremely farcical and pantomime-esque (though never tell The Maniac, he would hate that), the hilarious script is brought to life by a brilliant cast. Daniel Rigby as The Maniac is a comedic tour de force, using every single part of Anna Reid’s clever set including the walls and the furniture to lampoon the Met, charming the audience (fourth wall? What fourth wall?) and the police officers with a manic grin and cheeky wink. By the end of the first act, he has convinced the officers that he’s an ally, persuading them to join him in chaotically singing the Italian anti-fascist folk song ‘Bella Ciao’.
By the beginning on the second act, they are uplit like Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody and singing in perfect harmony. Tony Gardner and Jordan Metcalfe play the hapless officers Superintendent Curry and Detective Daisy, playing into the mania orchestrated by The Maniac with hilarity. Howard Ward as Inspector Burton is resistant to change and not fooled by the intruder but powerless to stop him. The whole cast is sensational, and with direction from Daniel Raggett, there is never a slow moment.
This overtly theatrical production makes you laugh, but you walk away with a feeling of discomfort that lasts the entire journey home. It was hilarious but it was also really real. As you leave the theatre there are hundreds of tally marks covering the set, a stark reminder of how many people have died in police custody in recent times. It’s a fantastic show, and one that will stay with me for a long time.