Originally written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, Tom Basden’s adaption of Accidental Death of an Anarchist for a contemporary British audience is a sublime reminder of the shortcomings of authoritarian powers. Following a sell-out run at the Lyric Hammersmith, Daniel Raggett’s production continues to plough through the taboo, seriously challenging the ‘powers that be’ with slapstick, silliness, and their own failings for ammunition.
The Maniac, played by Daniel Rigby, performs his way out of a charge brought by Inspector Burton, played by Mark Hadfield. Without being able to help himself, The Maniac dives deep into various guises to investigate and hold the police accountable for widespread corruption and foul play in and beyond the immediate case of the accidental death of an anarchist.
Rigby’s performance is captivating. There isn’t a single instance where he drops the ball from his first manic episode to his final masterpiece. Rigby’s presence with the audience is expertly done, reacting to some latecomers’ disruptions with perfect wit and timing. His physical comedy that follows continues to bring raucous delight as he navigates the never-ending minefield of the police force’s stupor.
Anna Reid’s set design is a playground of opportunity. It is a delight to see the cohesion between Raggett’s exploration of space and Reid’s mundane office layout. There are some brilliant comedic games played maneuvering audience expectations and transcending the extraordinary.
The police detectives, played by Tony Gardner, Ruby Thomas, Tom Andrews and Ro Kumar, create a wonderful ensemble of stupidity and malice filled with negligence and corruption. Gardner’s leading position is unruly as he connects with Rigby’s ridicule with a stern and unfailing seriousness which perfectly elevates the contrast. Similarly, Kumar’s eagerness to impress his senior officers escalates their incompetence.
The damning blow comes when the aptly named millennial reporter Fi Phelan, played by Ruby Thomas, interviews the force on their flimsy investigations. Rigby rips off the band-aid with incredulous honesty silencing the previous cacophony amongst the audience. The true nature of the political farce comes to light with the shocking statistics of police brutality in which just a few of the many names are used for example.
Basden’s writing, coupled with Raggett’s direction leaves the entire audience in their place; staring at a reflection of the contribution made by voting, conforming, by-standing, and doing little or nothing to hold anyone accountable.
The harrowing agenda of Accidental Death of an Anarchist lands into our laps without a shadow of a doubt. Despite being the loudest auditorium of laughter this year, it is also the most silent.
It runs until 9 September. Tickets from £18: here.
Review: Sebastian Calver Photos: Helen Murray