Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Oxford Playhouse

Tuesday 8th - Saturday 12th February 2005

Corrupt? The Italian justice system? Never. Dario Fo’s great farcical satire exposes the corruption of the Italian police with such effect that it earned him death threats following its opening in 1970. Based on the genuine case of the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell to his death during an interrogation concerning his involvement in the infamous Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, the play mocks the suspicious circumstances surrounding this all too convenient death. Fo’s maniacal protagonist wittily probes the police officers who conducted the anarchist’s interrogation, discovering everything but the truth about what actually happened on the night he fell to his death.

Luca Giberti’s production is wonderfully imaginative, both artistically and aesthetically. The dominant sense of flailing chaos is punctuated by satisfying bursts of crisp choreography, and the farcical routines of violence in the latter stages of the play demonstrate the director’s flair and the actors’ timing at their best.

The “concrete proof” the policemen produce to prove their innocence is as warped as the concrete room in which the action takes place; never have I seen a play to which the set contributes so much. Giberti claims that the oversized props “symbolize the dysfunctional relationship between men and modern institutions”, however I believe their significance to be more far-reaching. As the high-ranking policemen perch on the edge of giant chairs, dwarfed by a giant phone and giant drawers, they are reduced to mere dolls; indeed, the warped proportions endow every scene with a sense of childishness, as if these powerful figures of the justice system are as ignorant and reckless as children, simply playing for fun. The costumes contribute to this feel, particularly that of the superintendent (Benedict Morrison) who appears almost cartoon-like in his stylized suit and thick, goggling glasses; his slender poise and sharp, angular movements accentuate this sense of the unreal.

Carrying the caustic satirical message of the play upon his shoulders, Brian Stewart excels in the role of the maniac. Manipulating numerous hats, coats and fake arms, not to mention a multitude of accents with equal facility, his childlike flamboyancy engages the audience and he even manages to bring life to Fo’s potentially saggy didactic speeches. His versatility is also apparent on a physical level, as he exploits his physical presence to add still more dynamism and comedy to his performance. Benedict Morrison takes the stage by storm as the superintendent, injecting into the action an energy which the minor characters were struggling to achieve prior to his arrival. Special mention must go to the constables, who offer a wonderful backdrop of vacuousness and incompetence; Jack Ream’s understated yet toned performance deserves particular commendation.

Although the play is linked to specific, real-life events, Fo’s accusations cast shadow upon the nature of power systems in general and the chilling conclusion carries a wide-reaching impact. This production is so energetic it will exhaust you, so sharp it will satisfy you, and so revealing it will chill you to the bone. Extravagant entertainment with an edge. A must-see.

Holly Dickens 08/02/05