Tom Baden’s revival of this classic satire on police brutality and corruption is both timely and brilliant.


Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ was premiered in Italy in 1970 in the wake of the mysterious death of an Italian rail worker and anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli in 1969.  He was under police custody and accused of the Fontana bombing; however, he was cleared of all charges after his death. Fo went on to write this play loosely based on this event in which the character known as the ‘Maniac’ disguises himself as a judge investigating the ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ who supposedly threw himself out of a fourth-floor window during his interrogation. Fo’s intention was ultimately an exposition of the police corruption and brutality in 1960s to 1970s Italy and in Baden’s modern adaptation this message is definitely not lost.


Currently on at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre until 8th of April 2023, this play is an incredibly engaging watch. While the comedy is still making an important political comment it is still able to keep the audience in waves of laughter during the 2-hour performance, start to finish. The satirical genius of the script is partnered with an extremely talented cast of comedically nimble actors, the stand-out being Bafta-winning actor, Daniel Rigby. Rigby delivers us the exuberant, eccentric ‘Maniac’, a diagnosed ‘histrionomaniac ‘(one obsessed with acting and lives one’s life as if they are constantly performing to an audience). This allows his character to break the ‘fourth wall’ to wink knowingly to the audience and throw sweets in panto fashion. Rigby has engaging comedic timing with his line delivery and physical comedy. At one point in act two he took nearly two minutes (while in-Cognito as an old man) to get down from a table but at another moment judo rolls from a bench without batting an eyelid. Overall, his fast pace, enthusiastic, energised performance had the audience in stiches and tied the whole play together.


As the ‘Maniac’ points out, the event this play is based on occurred 50 years ago and yet we are still making art about the same thing. The audience is forced to focus on the uncomfortably familiar story of corruption and injustice. How much has actually changed since 1970? As is projected on to the set at the end of the play, ‘since 1990 there have been over 1850 deaths in police custody in the UK – and there have only ever been two manslaughter convictions’. This shocking statistic is not the only thing that makes Fo’s message of police corruption relevant; this play is being performed in the wake of many atrocious incidents involving the metropolitan police such as the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard and serial rapist David Carrick being exposed. It is full to the brim of modern cultural references; some were for laughs, but others referred to recent police misdemeanours that are certainly not laughing matters. From dodgy WhatsApp groups, officers taking selfies with murder victims, racial profiling, Baden’s script bristles with criticism of police culture.


Ultimately the play is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you want to see a cast of talented actors comment on political turmoil and corruption all while using artificial hands, a musical outburst and one liners that will have you in fits of laughter, I highly suggest catching it before the end of its run.