Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Lyric Hammersmith)

This new adaptation of Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s classic absurdist comedy proves that it can translate to any place and time, as ‘the Maniac’ (a terrific Daniel Rigby) turns up in the offices of the Met.

With rapid-fire dialogue peppered with jokes, this version is brutally critical of the police system and assured in its constant pop culture and contemporary references.

Fo’s characters are renamed from their Italian originals (Bertozzo becomes Burton, Feletti becomes Phelan), yet the Anarchist remains a ‘foreigner’, an immigrant, and so the play also takes aim at government policy against refugees.

Production photo of Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Tom Basden’s adaptation cleverly dials up the clowning and comedy while delivering a careful critique of our times. In 1970, Fo was inspired by a real death in police custody – fifty years later, as a hammer-blow coda tells us, little has changed if your face doesn’t fit.

It is hard to describe this play without spoiling your experience: suffice to say you will hear singing, enjoy physical contortions, and basic slapstick, and revel in a script heavy with profanity and criticism of our great institutions.

No one escapes: judges, scientists, journalists. As the Maniac exposes the death of the Anarchist through increasingly bizarre exposition, we find ourselves questioning what we are seeing and what we are told in popular media narrative.

Production photo for Accidental Death of an Anarchist

The performances are top-notch. As noted, in many ways, this is Rigby’s show, as he gleefully breaks the fourth wall, tumbles round the set with boundless energy, or displays a wonderful grasp of comic timing.

As the policemen pulled into the Maniac’s fantasy, Jordan Metcalfe (Daisy), Shane David-Joseph (Joseph), and Tony Gardner (Supt Curry) are farcical foils and devious deceivers.

Journalist Phelan (Ruby Thomas) is the rich daddy’s girl, with Howard Ward’s Burton the committed plod who gets satisfyingly riled as the play progresses.

Production photo for Accidental Death of an Anarchist

This is a must-see production, with Daniel Raggett’s direction keeping the pace and balancing a complicated tale with flair.

Anna Reid’s set and costumes have a lot of surprises (keep an eye on that window), while Jai Morjaria’s lighting comes up with a few innovative choices.

Annie May Fletcher’s sound and Matt Powell’s video design ensures The Accidental Death of an Anarchist leaves you thoroughly entertained and educated.

You can watch The Accidental Death of an Anarchist until 8 Apr at the Lyric Hammersmith. Tickets here.


Photo credit: Helen Murray