Photo: Helen Murray

First impressions count, and when Accidental Death of an Anarchist began, we weren’t sure we were going to enjoy it. This is an absolute rollercoaster of a comedy – the pace is relentless, with quick-fire exchanges and unexpected twists and turns as the story is set up. The humour, at least initially, is pretty firmly in the slapstick, silly, farcical camp – which we find tolerable in small doses, but we weren’t convinced on the prospect of a whole evening of it. Perseverance is rewarded, however; the jokes become smarter and more abstract, and the madcap premise reveals itself to be an intelligent social commentary on the Metropolitan police.

The original version of this play was written by Dario Fo in 1970 and was based on the real story of a man who supposedly fell from a window while being interrogated by police; the script was based entirely on transcripts of the interviews from the time of the incident. The version currently playing at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket is a new adaptation by Tom Basden; the script has been refreshed and now includes references to a whole series of recent police failings alongside wider contemporary social issues.

The lead character here is simply known as the Maniac – a bombastic performance by Daniel Rigby – who is initially brought into police custody for questioning. Upon realising that he’s in the very room where the famous incident took place – of the anarchist who fell from the window – he disguises himself as a judge to try and gather evidence from the slow-witted police officers, to see if he can uncover the truth of the situation. It’s a pretty preposterous premise, but it somehow works. The supporting cast is solid, but this is very much Rigby’s show – he steals every scene and has all the funniest punchlines.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist takes some getting used to – we started out not sure we’d actually enjoy the show, but we warmed to it by the interval and we left the theatre having enjoyed what turned out to be a wonderfully subversive comedy. It won’t be to everyone’s taste – the pace takes a fair bit of getting used to and much of the humour is quite silly – but there are some smart observations in here alongside some delightfully abstract punchlines. Suspend your disbelief for the duration, go in with an open mind and you’ll likely have a thoroughly enjoyable night out.

GAY TIMES gives Accidental Death of An Anarchist – 4/5

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