Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Review – Sheffield Crucible


By Clare Jenkins, September 2022

Half a century after it was written, Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s satirical farce remains a biting attack on police corruption and ineptitude. Continually adapted with the playwright’s permission, its central theme of deaths in police custody is as pertinent today as it was in 1960s neo-Fascist Italy. According to the message projected onto the set at the end of Tom Basden’s adaptation, 3,000 people have died in custody in the UK since the play was written in 1970. So I doubt that too many law enforcement officers will enjoy Daniel Raggett’s jaw-droppingly hyperactive production.

To put a complicated real-life plot in a nutshell: an Italian anarchist has died in police custody after falling (or being pushed?) from a 4th floor window. The Maniac (Daniel Rigby, a tour de force and tour de voice, starting at Volume 11 and rarely dialling down) is being interviewed by an increasingly exasperated police inspector (a solidly believable Howard Ward), who is then called away for a sensitivity training session on unconscious bias (there are many such topical references).

Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Review – Sheffield Crucible Daniel Rigby

Daniel Rigby (The Maniac) in Accidental Death of an Anarchist

“Intensely political”

In his absence, The Maniac (he’s confessed to ‘acting mania’) impersonates the judge who’s arriving to question three other police officers about the death. He runs rings round them, getting them to confess, almost getting them to jump to their own deaths, then persuading them to meet the journalist who’s arrived to interview them (a youthfully swaggering, selfie-taking Ruby Thomas). The men by now are so confused by their lies and the general chaos that they trip up over every aspect of the story, at which point a bomb is produced. But does it go off or not? And who is the real seeker after truth – the journalist or the Maniac?

Fo intended Accidental Death of an Anarchist to be intensely political, reflecting institutional and state collusion and cover-ups. For its revolutionary message to remain always relevant, references and even names are regularly changed. So here the setting is 2022 Britain, with mentions of Line of Duty, a new King, a female Home Secretary who’s “down in Dover with her BB gun, trying to pop any dinghies crossing the Channel”, police WhatsApp groups, “alternative facts” and journalistic clickbait.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Review – Sheffield Crucible Ruby Thomas

Ruby Thomas as Fi Phelan


But there are also references to Rose West and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and “Not even Sting takes that long to climax”, which might pass younger people by. So what with that and Rigby’s bucking bronco of a performance – not just the high-speed delivery but the equally high-energy rolling off benches, jumping onto tables, slapping on a wig, a false hand, glasses – no wonder some audience members occasionally looked bewildered. Similarly, the laughs come so fast and furious, without always giving the gags time to breathe or the audience time to catch them, some stingingly clever lines are missed. So the moments of quiet humour – when the Maniac smiles conspiratorially at the audience, for instance – come as a blessed relief, and as a joy.

With his Superintendent’s uniform, unsmiling face and stand-to-attention posture, Tony Gardner is the very model of a man determined to protect his position of power, and his pension. Jordan Metcalfe’s Detective Daisy oozes macho threat and dim-witted shiftiness, while Shane David-Joseph catches the eye in an unrewarding part, offering a restful cameo of an innocent constable being corrupted by example.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Review – Sheffield Crucible cast

“Clever theatrical tricks”

All the action takes place in set designer Anna Reid’s functional police station room, open on two sides to the audience. Deceptively simple, it also offers some clever theatrical tricks – for instance, the illusion of moving floors.

There’s a moment when the mood darkens in the second half – which opens with the Italian anti-fascist anthem ‘Bella Ciao’, smoke and flashing strobe lights – but in the main this production prefers wildly comic effect over cold anger. More variety of tone and pace might highlight the disturbing messages more, but the evening as a whole still leaves much to think about, and to enjoy. Just bring earplugs.

‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ runs until October 15th at Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse at Sheffield
Crucible Theatre
images: Helen Murray


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