Accidental Death of an Anarchist first appeared in 1970, inspired by the mysterious demise of a certain Giuseppe Pinelli in December 1969. Investigative journalism yielded contention about his death which occurred in police custody and it's this ambivalence that lies at the heart of Fo's play. The character of the maniac becomes the modern-day equivalent of Shakespeare's Fool, acting as a mirror by which the faults of a society are exposed and ridiculed.
The writer Simon Nye, creator of the Men Behaving Badly sitcom- has done a new translation for this production and there's certainly no danger of the play creaking with age for it's liberally littered with witty topical references to Tony Blair et al, actually beginning with a version of Jerusalem that goes awry as pleated red curtains rise to reveal a contemporary police office. Rhys Ifans is the maniac, a figure first glimpsed in spidermen garb crouching on a windowsill. He possesses natural comic ability and over the course of the next two plus hours maintains an impressive volley of wit and verbal sallies designed to discomfit the assembled policemen and expose the truth of what really happened to the unfortunate anarchist. As one conceivable scenario after another is considered, the pendulum swings from the possibility of mere police negligence to the darker hues of potential murder.
The problem with this production, directed by Robert Delamere, is that despite its up to date references and Ifans' amusing presence, it swiftly comes across as wearisome, retreading the same ground and inducing fatigue rather than the intellectual engagement it should surely encourage. On the credit side, there are a few genuinely comic moments like the officers' musical harmony and an enjoyable turn from Adrian Scarborough as a pompous, corrupt official, but it's not enough to do justice to Fo's farce which, at best, can be both hilarious and cautionary.
(Production photo by Mark Douet)
Notices from the popular press....
CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "A sparky new translation." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Although the production slowly wins one over, it is torn between reverence for the original and the desire to do a radical re-write." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "An often amusing evening ends by adding clunkiness to irrelevance." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A delectably seriously farcical delight." JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "A brutally funny antidetective story."
External links to full reviews from newspapers