”Accidental Death of an Anarchist” at the Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse – review

Daniel Rigby (The Maniac), Jordan Metcalfe (Daisy)
Daniel Rigby (The Maniac), Jordan Metcalfe (Daisy)
© Helen Murray

It’s now above half a century since Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame’s farce burst upon the Italian public. Since their theatre company relied up improvisation and delighted in exposure of contemporary corruption of officialdom, there is no doubt that the text, as it exists, can be seen as in some way provisional. Thus Tom Basden’s bang up-to-date English version (we even have references to a new King and a new Prime Minister) would undoubtedly have met with Signor Fo’s whole-hearted approval.

In some of the rare serious moments Basden explains the play’s relevance today, why the “accidental” death of an “anarchist” in 1969 Italy is worth reconsidering: establishment corruption is still with us and, while the Government continues to support the corrupt, the play is relevant.

The “anarchist” never appears. Instead the main character is The Maniac, who initially is being questioned on the third floor of police headquarters. He manages to get to the fourth floor where the window from which the victim fell is situated and where he can question the superintendent (who, in the time-honoured way of such figures, “wasn’t there”) and his sergeant. Taking on the identity of a judge sent to conduct the investigation, he exposes the nonsense of the police story and terrifies the two officers. Ultimately, when a journalist arrives, he changes identity abruptly to a psychiatrist.

Above all, though, Daniel Raggett directs a whirlwind high-speed farce, with satire of 1969 Italy and 2013 Britain scattered willy-nilly throughout. Dialogue overlaps, machine-gun delivery is the norm and the audience is never given a moment to relax. Central to it all is the remarkable performance of Daniel Rigby as The Maniac, dialogue delivered at maximum speed, bringing in the audience in a mood of manic complicity, a warmly lunatic smile of triumph reminiscent of Eric Morecambe lighting up his usually disguised features. His mastery of physical comedy is probably best seen when, having altered the time on the wall clock, he has to get down from a table, tentative contortions leading to a perfect gymnastic exit.

The police are drolly inept, but dangerously so. Tony Gardner’s superintendent clearly sees himself as a decisive authority figure, but in fact accepts everything that the “judge” says. He furiously denies hugging the “anarchist”, then accepts it, he joins with Jordan Metcalfe’s doltish Daisy – frozen in an impossible posture throughout – in song, without apparent loss of self-confidence. Shane David-Joseph’s constable, forever being shut up before he can say the wrong thing, and Howard Ward’s inspector, the first to meet The Maniac and the recipient of kicks and blows from all and sundry, complete a fine body of men. Ruby Thomas’ reporter, Fi Phelan, is a delightfully smug child of privilege.

Anna Reid’s designs are part of the glorious chaos of Raggett’s production: from the totting up of victims that appears occasionally and finally smothers all the walls to the white board that the Maniac misses when marking up the evidence. It’s a wildly inventive first show for the newly renamed Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse!