Humour can be a powerful tool for addressing and exposing deep and problematic themes, such as deaths in custody, as demonstrated in The Stirling Players, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Dario Fo’s 1970 play, set in Milan, masterfully employs satire and farce to tackle serious issues in a way that captures the audience’s attention, encourages critical thinking, and invites them to reflect on the complexities of the subject matter.
The Director, Lesley Reed, made the deliberate choice of casting women in the traditionally male roles, a decision that contributes to the farcical essence of the play, thereby amplifying its satirical impact. The play is based on a real-life event of the mysterious death of an anarchist who fell from a police station window in Milan in 1969. Reed remained faithful to the original setting by having the cast adopt Italian accents. Whilst the Director’s choice to incorporate Italian accents was in line with the original setting, the execution didn’t achieve complete consistency among the cast members. At the outset of the play, it did pose a slight challenge in comprehending the dialogue, as both the audience’s ears and minds adjusted to the unfamiliar accent.
The play follows the “Maniac” (Danii Zappia), a cunning individual who infiltrates a police station as a judge to investigate the suspicious death. Zappia’s performance is marked by her high-energy portrayal, completely immersing herself in the eccentricity of the character. Ashleigh Merriel portrays both Constables well, highlighting their gullibility, susceptibility to manipulation and blinding obedience to authority. These traits then become a source of comedy as they unwittingly participate in the Maniac’s schemes.
The other police officers are Inspector Bertozzo (Olivia Jane Parker) the sceptical officer, Pissani (Anita Zamberlan Canala) whose portrayal exudes an intimidating and menacing presence and Superintendent (Georgia Stockham) complete with comb over. Each of them brings a high level of energy and physicality to their respective roles. They are all joined by an Investigative Journalist, Feletti, played by Kyla Booth. Feletti’s character not only figuratively but also quite literally tangoes with the Maniac, creating both a dynamic interaction and a memorable moment in the play.
The set was effectively designed and conceived by Erik Strauts and Eleni Taylor to facilitate the physical farce, providing necessary entrances and exits. The depiction of multiple floors (1st and 4th) was skillfully managed. The execution of the scene change seamlessly matched the style and genre of the show.
In summary, this rendition of “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” provided a thought-provoking take on Dario Fo’s work. Its conclusion prompted reflection on contemporary events, drawing parallels to issues such as the tragic death of George Floyd and the phenomenon of “fake news” during the Trump era. It showcased the dedication and hard work of the cast and crew. The world of theatre is diverse, and this production certainly contributes to its rich tapestry.