The death of Giuseppe Pinelli (1928-1969) by defenestration, the anarchist in the title of the play, was not at the forefront of very many, if any, people’s minds in a London theatre in 2023, as it was when the show premiered in 1970 in Milan. I suspect it didn’t need to even be re-set in modern-day London in this fresh and bombastic adaptation to be understood. But just because police corruption seems to exist in some form in most parts of the world – and what a damning indictment it is on the supposedly more ethical and moral times in which we live that a play on this subject continues to resonate with audiences – this doesn’t mean it should be accepted. While there’s a lot of laughter in this production, an extremely pertinent point is made about the number of deaths in police custody or following contact with the police in England and Wales since 1990. According to the show, 1,850 people have died in such circumstances. There have not been very many successful prosecutions over the years.
The production begins by being loud and brisk: just as well as the central character is only named in the programme as The Maniac (Daniel Rigby). For reasons explained in the narrative, he ends up being called various names during the show – his powers of deception are such that he is able to pass himself off as a judge who pretends to carry out an investigation into, well, the accidental death of an anarchist. The distinction is made between an ‘anarchist’ and a ‘terrorist’, the latter apparently denoting connotations with people who act in accordance with the wishes of the leadership of a highly organised terrorist network, as opposed to a solitary loose cannon.
The entire play is set in a large Metropolitan Police Service building. People connected with the Service won’t, in my experience, take kindly to it being referred to as a ‘constabulary’, even if that only happens once in this play to the best of my recollection, as it’s never been that. It’s never been a ‘force’ either – it’s extraordinary the kind of fuss some people in the Met will make over terminology, and they need to see a show like this one more than most. Of course, it almost naturally follows they will be amongst the people least interested in attending.
Exposing as it does some rather more important issues than semantics, the high-octane dialogue dips a little in the second half. It’s not the longest of plays but it does need an interval, such is the energy expended by way of physical theatre and physical comedy. The Maniac plays up to his name, fearlessly and forcefully tearing into the police and the Government, the latter, he asserts, having worked hard to indeed ‘defund the police’ (albeit without doing what the slogan really means, namely reallocating funds towards other forms of community support, like social services and adult education).
There’s a systematic tearing apart of almost every aspect of the police’s defence arguments in relation to the anarchist’s death, often with incredulity. The death was, Detective Daisy (Jordan Metcalfe) contends, a mistake. The Maniac, having assumed the role of ‘Judge Randall’ (“my pronouns are ‘we’ and ‘us’”) responds that “buying clothes from River Island is a mistake” but an anarchist jumping out of a window with several police officers in attendance in the same room is, whatever it is, not a ‘mistake’. And so the laughs go on, more than one a minute, leaving Superintendent Curry (Tony Gardner) and the cops under his command looking increasingly inept. At times, it was like watching a football fan screaming at the sheer incompetence of a match referee.
Regular patrons of the theatre will appreciate the many references to Shakespeare and musical theatre. Rigby’s Maniac has a larger-than-life stage presence, and in a world where people are increasingly wary of saying anything at all for fear of being the next target of ‘cancel culture’, to have strong viewpoints, whether one agrees with them or not, spoken with such confidence and conviction, is refreshing. Tackling some uncomfortable truths head-on, this production is ruthless, relevant and riotous.
Review by Chris Omaweng
An Anarchist has fallen to his death from a police station window. But did he jump or was he thrown?
As the police prepare for an inquiry into the incident, an unhinged showman known only as the Maniac is arrested and brought into the station. Seizing the opportunity to put on a show, he leads the police in an absurd recreation of their version of events, exposing the cover-ups, corruption and profound idiocy of an institution in free-fall.
A razor-sharp satire, Tom Basden’s wickedly hilarious adaptation relocates Dario Fo’s classic farce to contemporary London and features a show-stopping performance from Daniel Rigby, as the Maniac.
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Sheffield Theatres present
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame in a new adaptation by Tom Basden. Directed by Daniel Raggett.
13 Mar – 08 Apr 2023