Accidental Death of an Anarchist ★★★☆☆

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a chaotic spectacle that wraps a sobering critique of power and corruption in a cloak of irresistible comedy. This new adaptation by Tom Basden brings Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s classic farce into the present day, infusing it with contemporary relevance.

The story unfolds in a police station, the stage for a madcap farce that shrewdly satirises corruption within the British police. Daniel Rigby takes centre stage as ‘The Maniac’, a character whose eccentricities serve as a smokescreen for the probing questions he poses. Rigby performs with an electric energy, inhabiting the character who, despite the chaotic façade (all of which underscore the cunning intelligence of his character), is the engine driving the narrative towards a sobering revelation. His physical comedy, punctuated with a variety of hilarious voices and walks, is a delight. His performance is a masterclass in maintaining a comic veneer whilst hinting at the stinging critique beneath.

The plot, based on the historical incident of Giuseppe Pinelli’s mysterious fall from an Italian police station window, is given a modern-day twist. As the Maniac infiltrates the police station under various guises, including a judge, he artfully exposes the officers’ involvement in a series of scandals. The officers, blissfully unaware of the Maniac’s intentions, incriminate themselves in a series of hilarious yet horrifying revelations.

But this is not simply a comedy. The play accelerates towards a shocking climax, as the farcical narrative is interrupted by a damning statistic of police custody deaths. This jarring moment is a stark reminder of the play’s critique of institutional corruption and the tragic reality that the comedy has been skirting around.

Anna Reid’s set design is a character in itself, a whirlwind of disarray that mirrors the narrative’s chaos. It is an embodiment of the play’s essence – a visual chaos that mirrors the pandemonium unfurling in the narrative. It’s a canvas on which Rigby’s ‘Maniac’ can wreak havoc, and it does its job brilliantly. The strategic use of projections, particularly the shocking statistics displayed at the end, roots the farcical narrative in a chilling reality.

Daniel Raggett’s direction is commendable. He succeeds in preserving the play’s original spirit while making it accessible to a modern audience. The choreography, primarily in the form of Rigby’s physical comedy, is a spectacle in itself. His movements, ranging from slapstick falls to precision-timed gestures, elicit laughter while masterfully contributing to the narrative progression. However, the pace at which the narrative unfolds risks obscuring some of the more nuanced commentary amidst the relentless comedy.

The lighting design and choreography further heighten the sense of anarchy. The bright, almost garish lights contrast with the play’s grim undertones, while the physical comedy, largely thanks to Rigby’s agility, adds a layer of visual humour that complements the verbal wit.

The ensemble cast provides a robust backdrop to Rigby’s standout performance. Their characters’ gradual exposure as corrupt officials forms the crux of the plot, and their obliviousness to their own downfall only amplifies the play’s underlying satire.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a ride of laughter and revelations. But it’s not just a comedy; it strikes a delicate balance between humour and hard-hitting commentary, proving that theatre can be both entertaining and enlightening. Beneath the madcap mayhem lies a sobering critique of police corruption. Whilst the play’s pace may occasionally blur the finer details, the play ultimately leaves you with a potent aftertaste, a blend of riotous entertainment and sobering reality.