THEATRE REVIEW: Accidental Death of an Anarchist

THIS Sheffield premiere joyously combines the same biting wit and slapstick with a devastating and chilling satire on institutional power.

THE murder of Sarah Everard shockingly revealed the abuse of police power in Britain.

So Tom Basden’s new adaptation  switching to the UK Dario Fo’s classic critique of the Italian state, is particularly pertinent.

Fo’s original deals with the death in police custody in Milan of an anarchist railworker after he was arrested for a terrorist bombing in 1969 that killed 16 people. According to police he “fell” from a fourth floor window.

In fact, years later it was confirmed the bombing had been carried out by fascists — a timely reminder following the far right's election victory in Italy last week.

The brilliance of the play in both versions is that it manages to be hilarious and yet never forgets the horror of the events it concerns.

Basden and a superb cast draw on Fo’s use of the traditions of Italian farce with rapid-fire dialogue and comedy timing perfectly executed.

The play centres on a actor fraudster, known as The Maniac, who is brought to police headquarters just as the officers inside prepare for a judicial review — a second inquiry into an inquiry — of the “accident”.

Brilliantly played at breathtaking speed by Daniel Rigby, including an awesome roll across stage, he poses as a judge to dupe the officers into a farcical re-enactment of the incident.

Rigby, a cross between Eric Morecambe — who he played previously to acclaim — and Vic Reeves, is suitably anarchic as he exposes the absurd corruption and terrifying idiocy at the heart of the system.

Like a clownish Inspector Calls, Rigby never misses a comic moment before an explosive but open-ended finale.

Great support comes from Jordan Metcalfe, nicely playing a stupidly thuggish detective called Daisy, an unbelievably believable superintendent in Tony Gardner, Ruby Thomas the double-dealing journalist, Howard Ward as stressed out Inspector Burton and Shane David-Joseph as a dim young copper.

With a simple but effective set by Anna Reid, the play is impeccably directed by Daniel Raggett.

Sheffield Theatres calls it a “really timely examination of our police powers and how they regulate themselves”.

There’s a Fo-like call to arms afterwards. We learn of 3,000 deaths in police custody since 1970 and just two successful prosecutions, with the audience urged to find out more via the production company's website.

Maybe there’ll be an update of Fo’s other classic Can’t Pay Won’t Pay coming soon.

Accidental Death Of An Anarchist is at the  Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse until October 15.