It’s Exactly the Riot Stuff

What do you get when you blend together some black comedy with a dash of theatre of the absurd, and add a sprinkling of political satire on the top? Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo is as acerbic and darkly raucous as it sounds, and the Wadham Moser production teeters on the brink between slapstick and in-your-face propaganda. This political farce, based upon the mysterious death of Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist railwayman, traces Inspector Bertozzo’s (played by Sam Lyon) increasingly desperate attempts to solve the enigma of Pinelli’s death. He is tormented all the while by the maniac (John Jenkins), who knows far more than he claims, and enjoys wielding this power over the sweaty detectives, who are kitted out appropriately in tacky police uniforms, complete with obligatory underarm sweat stains. Jenkins’ performance is lively and spirited, and he brings a wry edginess to the infuriatingly knowing maniac, who claims insanity but is savvy enough to know the precise psychological terms to describe his madness. However, he sometimes fails to be an endearingly ironic antihero, tending too much towards being irritatingly smarmy to the audience as well as to the hapless Bertozzo. He interacts well with Lyon, however, and their admirably choreographed tussles are pleasingly chaotic. Lyon’s portrayal of Bertozzo’s madness is somewhat heavyhanded, but he brings a feisty edge to the play’s dynamics. The Wadham Moser production has prudently veered away from the typical faux pas of staging Accidental Death of an Anarchist, ensuring that the political element does not drown in the sea of hyper-ironic self-reference, acerbic witticisms and slapstick comedy. This production uses projections of the protest rallies and state brutality, the most recent images being of the Genoa riots, as a reminder of the dark undercurrent of the play, the reality of violence and corruption at the core of the justice system. Another clever device is the Big Brother-style twist to this production, the play being imbued with the sense of being a documentary, certain scenes being replayed at intervals to express the plurality of perspectives in Fo’s theatrical landscape, which enhances the theme of deception and disguise that comes to the fore later in the play. Dario Fo maintains his wryly cynical stance throughout, and we cannot hope to satisfactorily solve the mystery of the anarchist’s ‘accidental’ death; in fact, the play raises more questions in our minds through the subtle nudges Fo gives us towards distrust in political and judicial authority. The Wadham Moser production may lack some subtlety of nuance and slightly hamfisted acting, but the innovative devices of which it makes use and its swift choreography make it a worthy production sure to push all the right buttons and leave the audience with a wry smile on their faces.
ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2003