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Guest Blog: Actor Daniel Raggett on Reviving the Inquiry in Fo's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST

Fo's play is a comedic satire, but also provokes uncomfortable parallels with today

Guest Blog: Actor Daniel Raggett on Reviving the Inquiry in Fo's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST

One of the most important provocations when making any piece of theatre is: why this, why now?

You would think this would be difficult question to answer for play like Accidental Death of an Anarchist - a play written in 1970, about an anarchist railway worker, Giuseppe Pinelli, who died after falling from the fourth floor window of the police station in which he was being held.

Pinelli had been wrongly arrested for a bombing that he wasn't involved in, interrogated and, eventually, killed and, even though the police were strongly suspected of murdering him, an investigation absolved the officers of blame.

Tom Basden's version has updated the play to the present day, but from that description the parallels are immediately clear. Deaths at the hands of the police remain all too common. Only last week, the Metropolitan police shot and killed an unarmed man named Chris Kaba. Tragically, his killing is only the most recent in a long line of deaths at the hands of the police.

As part of our research into the production we have been speaking to a charity named Inquest. Inquest provides expertise in 'state-related deaths' and their statistics show that there have been 1833 deaths in police custody or following contact with the police in England and Wales since 1990. 20 of those are this year alone - an alarming statistic. We are becoming inured to violence perpetrated by those meant to serve and protect. Clearly little has changed since Dario Fo and Franca Rame first began performing the play over 50 years ago.

Interestingly, perhaps uniquely, Accidental Death of an Anarchist approaches this tragedy through the medium of farce. Fo was a populist. He wanted his work to have broad appeal, to be watchable and democratic and seen by as many people as possible. Tom's adaptation, just like the original, is incredibly funny. It is packed with incisive jokes and hilarious physical comedy, all delivered by a talented cast of actors playing a vivid variety of characters.

The ringleader of this is The Maniac, the central character originally played by Fo - a seeming 'madman' who throws into disarray the police's cover up as he picks holes in their official statements. The Maniac is an agent of chaos, a descendent from the harlequin of commedia dell'arte. As he leads the police step by step through their version of events - which, in Fo's original would have been directly lifted from the officer's testimonies - their lies get more far-fetched and illogical and he throws into sharp relief their farcical attempts to cover up their guilt. The logic of the madman - one of paradox - throws into relief the logic of the sane. Suddenly, the 'madman' seems the sanest of the lot.

It is not much of a reach for us to find examples of cover-ups and or a lack of accountability - whether in Hillsborough or Orgeave, the shooting of Mark Duggan or the scandal of Spycops. Indeed, the historical truth of these events and their unresolved nature all sit alongside the story of Pinelli.

And so the audience laugh at the satire, but at the same time come to realise that they are laughing at real situations, real abuses of power, events which are criminal and obscene and brutal - all of them covered up by the state. And so the laugh becomes a grimace, a grimace of recognition which dies on their lips.

Hopefully that is what stays with an audience, the uncomfortable taste that what we are laughing at it a little too close to home. Are we tired of the endless cycle of outrage and inquiry which characterises our world? Are we even aware of the systems of power which dehumanise their subjects perpetuate the status quo? A recognition of these uncomfortable truths reside within that laughter.

As Fo says, the play doesn't allow you the catharsis of a drama because "when you laugh, the sediment of anger stays inside you, and can't get out..."

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is at the Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse, Sheffield from 23 September - 15 October

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From This Author - Guest Blog: Daniel Raggett


Guest Blog: Actor Daniel Raggett on Reviving the Inquiry in Fo's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHISTGuest Blog: Actor Daniel Raggett on Reviving the Inquiry in Fo's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST
September 22, 2022

One of the most important provocations when making any piece of theatre is: why this, why now?