Stuart King


At the heart of Dario Fo’s 1970 satire, is a desire to expose the oft ridiculous web of lies and deceit used to cover-up incidents stemming from abuses of power. An anarchist dies whilst being interrogated in police custody. But did he jump from the window or was he pushed?

Accidental Death of an Anarchist The Cast of Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo credit Helen Murray

In late 1969, a neo-fascist group destroyed a Milan bank, killing 17 people and injuring a further 88 in the bombing. In response, the police under pressure to find the culprits rounded-up various known anarchists for questioning. One suspect — a train driver named Guiseppe Pinelli — plummeted 4 stories to his death after 3 days in police custody, prompting Fo to set about creating a play based on the circumstances. In his work, he incorporates a veritable swathe of idiotic and wholly unbelievable lies and excuses conjured by the police to exonerate themselves from wrongdoing. The catalyst which Fo uses to animate the story, is a maniac who finding himself in custody for impersonating various professionals, who then sets about using his acting skills to create mayhem and madness amidst the constabulary’s managed misdirection of the media narrative.

Boasting a considerably massaged new adaptation by Tom Basden which succeeds in relocating the action to the present at a Metropolitan police station, the play in its current guise incorporates multitudinous excoriating wisecracks at the expense of everyone from the Home Secretary down to the lowliest plod. Directed by Daniel Raggett and delivered at a blistering pace, the result is an unapologetic attack on those institutions fundamentally charged with upholding the rule of law and by inference, the moral fabric of decent, law-abiding society. The message is quite simple — when such institutions cannot be depended upon, society’s cohesion founders — often irreparably.

Central to the action is an unrelenting outpouring of farcical observational and physical humour from Daniel Rigby as The Maniac. He barely draws breath for the entire piece and is rarely out of the spotlight, tying the police in knots then watching them unravel in his disguise as a judge come to investigate inconsistencies in the testimonials submitted after the fourth floor fall. The witless and unwitting victims of his exposé (which involves repeated breaches of the fourth wall) are Tony Gardner as Superintendent Curry, Tom Andrews as Detective Daisy, Mark Hadfield as Inspector Burton, Ro Kumar as Agent Joseph and Ruby Thomas as journalist Fi Phelan.

If you’re a flag-waving reader of the Express, Mail or Telegraph, then this zany poke at institutionalised wrong-doing will likely rattle your cage and have you storming for the exits. But stay until after the cast have taken their final curtain call and you will witness a disturbing statistic projected onto the set which tells a story which should concern every law abiding citizen, wherever they may be.