The next West End hit?

By: Mar. 18, 2023
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Review: ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, Lyric Hammersmith With references ripped from the headlines, this rocket-paced update of Dario Fo and Franca Rame's Accidental Death Of An Anarchist is at once both deeply political and utterly hilarious.

This play which debuted last year at the Playhouse in Sheffield barely stops for breath. Fans of gag-a-minute comedies like Airplane! will be in their element here but this is no shallow parody. Woven into its fabric is a biting inditement of British law enforcement. From the less-than-subtle nods to the wrongly jailed Birmingham Six through to the racial profiling behind Stop and Search, writer Tom Basden is not shy about highlighting where our boys in blue have failed the public.

We first meet a character known only as "the Maniac" in a London police station running rings around his arresting officer. Caught for impersonating a psychiatrist, his defence rests on the quite believable premise that he is certifiably insane (he even carries around a certificate to prove it). Before long, he throws on some half-moon glasses from a bag of props to become Judge Randall ("my pronouns are 'we' and 'us'") and starts looking into how an Italian train driver and supposed anarchist managed to fall out of a window, the real-life inspiration for Fo and Rame's 1970 play.

Basden and director Daniel Raggett have created a comic work for the ages here with a script packed with zingers from crown to corns and performances that keep us locked into the story from the off. In Daniel Rigby, a stand-up and actor who won a BAFTA for his portrayal of Eric Morecambe in BBC2's Eric and Ernie, they have found the perfect Maniac; his award-deserving turn as the charismatic lunatic who believes that he is being watched by an audience sees him bouncing around the stage, giving us nods and winks as he does.

The real fun starts when our anti-hero as "Judge Randall" starts to probe the made-up stories published by the cops (both their original and second version). Why, he asks, did the suspect take so long after the initial police interview before deciding to jump out of the window - "was there a pile-up on the M1? Did he have to wait in for an Ocado delivery?" All the while, our insane anti-hero throws out barbed insights into the high levels of real-life police malfeasance and the pitiful levels of justice that followed (since Fo and Rame's play came out, there have been over three thousand deaths in police custody and only two successful prosecutions of police officers) while dropping in mentions of Love Island, HS2 and the latest Avatar movie.

The Maniac sweetens his invasive questioning by charming the hapless plods with sardonic comments. Satirical quips mock-sympathising with their situation ("honestly, all these student snowflakes demanding to defund the police - the government has been hard at it for the past 12 years") are mixed in with backhanded compliments: the Superintendent (Tony Gardner) is told that he has "the zeal of a colonial hero, winning over the natives with ball games and starvation" while Detective Daisy (Jordan Metcalfe) is "like a young Marlon Brando...or an old Daniel Radcliffe".

Packed with laugh-out loud moments and peppered with painfully on point observations, this riotous version of Accidental Death Of An Anarchist is a masterclass in how to combine social issues and comedy in a way that is faithful to the original work but highly relevant to a modern audience. Far less deserving productions have transferred to the West End and gone onto fame and fortune so we look forward to seeing where Rigby, Basden and Raggett take this next.

Accidental Death Of An Anarchist continues until 8 April.

Photo credit: Helen Murray


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