Anyone familiar with pitching a theatre show these days will know there is one question you always have to answer to be in with a shot of doing your show; ‘Why now?’ This is a question that this production of Accidental Death of An Anarchist at the Lyric Hammersmith answers with every second of its stage time.
Though Dario Fo’s classic satire was based on the death of a real-life anarchist in police custody following the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, at its heart it is a play about corruption in the police that is not limited to a time or place.
Tom Basden’s adaptation levels its aim at the Met Police, and is bursting with modern references – some are as innocent as nods to Love Island or Line of Duty or even nods to ‘Diversity and Inclusion Training’ – but many cut deeper, making direct references not only to the recent failings and outright corruption and crime in the Met Police but to current statistics on the lack of consequences for police officers whose behaviour is reported and the rise in police brutality.
Anna Reid’s set creates the scene with the police interview room, but the simplicity also allows the actors to make as much use of the space as possible. It works incredibly well to allow the constant face paced nature of the show to flourish and the transition between scenes comes across effortlessly.
The cast are all fantastic, each coming in at the right point to intensify the scene. They bounce off each other and the way they perform it’s faultless. The majority of the mention and praise has to be given to the Maniac (Daniel Rigby). The energy Rigby exudes is phenomenal, he’s magnetic on stage. Never taking a breath and giving an award-worthy performance showcasing humour and his incredible ability. The breaking of the fourth wall with the audience allowed us to not feel we had to take anything seriously and just enjoy what was happening around us.
What has to be mentioned as both clever and thought-provoking, is the wording used within the show to keep relevance with today’s society. It seems to be with comedy that it becomes easier to laugh at the issues at hand rather than deal with them. The references to the Black Lives Matter March, and Sarah Everard are put in at the right places that once we’ve laughed at a joke previously before, we then suddenly stop and realise these conversations have to happen.
It is out of this chaos that you get some of the most affecting moments – as the comedy escalates so too do the stakes, and quite often it is among the funniest parts of the play that the most gut-punching references are made, and we remember why we’re here. The ‘Why now’. Most poignantly, following the bows, and in this case, a standing ovation, a tally builds on the walls of the police office, and the numbers count up, until the message on the wall tells you there have been
1850 deaths in police custody or following contact with the police since 1990, with a link to inquest.org.uk. The play leaves you in no doubt that whilst you may have split your sides with laughter, the issues it points to are as real and pressing as they have ever been, and that they’re only escalating.
And that is the final choice that makes this such a brilliantly executed piece of theatre – not only is the show a riot to watch, they call on the audience, constantly, to be aware of their own responses – the cycle of outrage, inquest, and inaction that allows institutions to slip, and people to feel powerless to do more than complain about it.
All in all, it’s a roaring success, the show is fantastic, and the cast is tremendous. Director Daniel Raggett has created a gem. An evening of comedy but also education. Being taught to open your eyes but at the same time wipe the tears of laughter away from them.
It seems that the way to tackle complex topics and conversations nowadays seems to be through action, making a statement. A comedic farce might not be the statement that jumps to mind but ‘Accidental Death Of An Anarchist’ is exactly the statement needed to get people talking. I have no doubt that it is a play that will be sticking in my head for a while yet, and that is when you know a new adaptation has come at just the right moment.
Review by Jasmine Silk & George Butler
Seat: Stalls, M12 | Price of Ticket: £15-42