Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The New Theatre, Dublin

 

There are two kinds of classic: those whose themes are so universal they speak to every age, and those which are a canvas on which any age can write its own story. Accidental Death of an Anarchist is the latter.

Written as recently as 1970 it was inspired by the fall of from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station of a political activist in suspicious circumstances. But Dario Fo’s satirical burlesque has here been transformed in a version by Men Behaving Badly’s Simon Nye into a study of the five years of social and economic austerity which have seized Ireland harder than anywhere else on these islands since the global financial meltdown of 2008.

This is a raucous rollercoaster farce of huge hilarity. But its humour is a thin veil for a scathing attack on the various forces of the political and economic establishment. It is set in a Garda station which is the constabulary equivalent of Father Ted’s presbytery. Rank reflects a hierarchy of intelligence from the knowningess of Neil Fleming as the Superintendent, through the low cunning of Rory Mullen’s Inspector, the bumptious Paul Kealyn as the first copper on the scene and Paul Elliot’s dopey but willing Fr Dougal of a constable of little brain.

The show is stolen by the mad capering of Patrick O’Donnell as The Maniac who upsets the neat policemen’s murder alibi. This is a bravura performance of slapstick, commedia and cartoon as he pretends to be a psychiatrist, judge, detective and finally a bishop. Immensely funny, O’Donnell nonetheless conveys a deeply knowing irony as he takes on, by turns, roles as a representative of the range of establishment institutions which Fo believes conspire to pull the wool over the eyes of the oppressed, distracted and befuddled downtrodden public.

The production has huge pace but it sacrifices some of Fo’s original ambiguity. Dagmar Doring as the investigative journalist comes across as the champion of justice and disinfector of corruption where Fo intended her to be a communist campaigner intent on bringing her own self-interested agenda to bring to the process.

Fo’s two alternative endings, which are designed to force the audience to make a choice, have here been resolved in an unsatisfactory act of final nihilism. But the evening thereby ends with a bang which is nicely characteristic of this rumbustious production.

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