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Accidental Death of an Anarchist

by on 4 May 2018

Anarchy Nailed

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

by Dario Fo

Latymer Theatre Company at OSO Arts Centre until 9th May

A review by Eleanor Lewis

The last ‘demo’ I was on (as we say when we’re of a certain age but hoping we might still have half a finger on some sort of pulse), there were a couple of incompetent-looking anarchists. This was four or five years ago and I think they were hoping for trouble but it was all they could do not to stand out like Chanel models in their fetching head-to-toe black outfits amongst a huge crowd of exhausted public sector workers. Latymer Theatre Co, on the other hand, have anarchy nailed and could bring down a government in their lunchtime with only a short pause for a song.

So it was on Wednesday night at the Old Sorting Office, Barnes where Latymer Theatre Company is currently reviving Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. There is always the possibility with a young company that they will be full of something usually referred to as “boundless energy” which is great in many ways but means the audience comes out shattered and bewildered at the sheer speed with which the whole thing is performed. Not so with LTC’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. They were indeed full of “boundless energy”, but so well directed were they and so skilled in their performance that Fo’s political farce was a joy to watch, very funny and not at all exhausting.


The play is based on a true event. In 1969, anarchist Guiseppe Pinelli died in police custody following a bomb attack in Milan in which sixteen people died. There was no evidence to suggest that he was in any way responsible for the bomb. Pinelli had been held by the police for three days prior to his death “falling” out of a fourth floor window. When he died there were several police officers in the room and he was found to have had bruises around his neck. The police account of what had happened was full of holes, suggesting an incompetent attempt at cover-up. Italy at the time was unstable and the police were thought to be broadly sympathetic to the fascist right who themselves were thought to be responsible for most of the bombings and attacks carried out then.

Fo turns Pinelli’s death into the most powerful of communicative devices, a political farce of commedia dell’arte slapstick and apparent anarchy of its own but with a piercing message: is the central character, the Maniac, mad or is it the system? If it’s the system, we’re all doomed. Performing this kind of theatre requires skill, discipline and flawless comic timing. LTC ticked all three boxes.

The Maniac is the audience’s friend in this work, she engages their attention as she manipulates the other characters, pushing them to the point of revealing themselves and their guilty secrets whilst at the same time seeming to be the chaos in the room. Hana Jarrah – a charismatic presence on stage – played this role with an authority and a playfulness which made it look much easier than it undoubtedly was. She had plenty of competition though. Elliot Hall, as Inspector Pissani – a confused man torn between his desire to perform stand-up comedy and the need to protect his boss and himself from some unpleasant consequences, whilst being blessed with very limited thinking skills – carried off this difficult role quietly, with great skill and wit. Pissani could have been Gene Hunt’s (Life on Mars) younger, overshadowed brother.

Other characters with arguably more straightforward roles nonetheless produced high quality performances. Sonny Pilgrem played the simple Constable without overdoing it so that he was a valid character rather than a dismissable one – even possibly a victim of the system himself. William Jarvis as Bertozzo was revved up to full stress for almost all his appearances as was Roel Fox, both actors pulling all the comedy available out of the ‘alpha-but-bewildered-male’ characters they played. Maisie Preston was perfectly appropriate as the journalist Miss Feletti, arriving to ask pertinent questions and bring the play to both of its possible conclusions.

Tiny issues are scarcely worth mentioning. James Orr’s lighting was effective and appropriate but the changes a little clunky. The one scene change wasn’t great either but the OSO stage is difficult it must be said. And there was a dodgy door – this being the second unreliable set door I’ve seen at OSO.

This was a hugely enjoyable night’s entertainment performed by very funny, skilled young actors. The rendition of I Get By With a Little Help From my Friends was inspired and hilarious, as was the short, demoralised moan mid-act one about the drudgery of being in a touring company of actors. The whole thing was fast-paced, well-disciplined, well directed and showed off a comprehensive understanding of every element of the material being presented – including the highly entertaining and suitably anarchic programme.

And you can’t get away either from the fact that Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a most pertinent production for the times we live in, as Fo himself said:

“There is no greater equaliser than the stupidity of men – especially when those men have power.”

Highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
May 2018

From → Drama, Reviews

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    Informative review, and interesting to read that the Maniac played by female actor. So sorry to have missed this production, sounds as is very much worth seeing.

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