Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist
By Dario Fo, in a new adaption by Francis Greenslade with Sarah Giles. Sydney Theatre Company. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. 10 September – 27 October, 2018

The sting in this mad buffoonery from Italy’s Dario Fo is that all of it had just happened.

An anarchist had plunged to his death from the fourth floor of the Milan police station in 1969, likely thrown out by cops during a long interrogation, following a bomb attack probably planned by fascists. 

Corrupt police and extremists, fake news and the distracting power of scandal are as familiar to us as to Fo’s audience.  The challenge today is to refresh the farcical carry-on with which Fo tried to rouse Italian workers to activism.  

Dario Fo’s most famous play has been a favourite of leftist theatres for four decades but they’ve often stumbled over Fo’s excessive wordiness and silly caricature.  But not this time.  

Besides reworking the script with co-adapter Frances Greenslade, director Sarah Giles has further sharpened the satirical knife by having this crude, incompetent police force played by women in male drag.

Amber McMahon is perfectly agile as the compulsive impersonator, an anarchist himself,  arriving it seems to lead a judicial investigation into the cock-up.  The cops think The Maniac is on their side; but really he’s our provocateur for truth. 

Jonathan Oxlade’s tacky delightfully detailed 1970 office, with a wide view of Milan’s cityscape, has enough tricky doors and cute props for McMahon to show her fleet-footedness. 

Julie Forsyth’s balding, incompetent Bertozzo, Bessie Holland’s grossly malevolent Pisani and Caroline Brazier’s straight man if amoral Superintendent are each comic gems to match McMahon.   With sound punctuation from Stefan Gregory,  the pace mostly rips along with a wit balanced between inventive and just silly.  And Oxlade’s period Italian costumes add further joy.

When the cops are finally questioned by a leading journalist (Annie Maynard), their male threat of real violence is clear.  It’s a rushed end to Fo’s analysis of political skulduggery but the journey is mightily entertaining.

Martin Portus.

Images: Bessie Holland, Julie Forsyth, Caroline Brazier and Susie Youssef, & Julie Forsyth, Susie Youssef and Annie Maynard in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photographer: Daniel Boud.

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