“Go to enjoy a night of wonderfully farcical comedy but expect to leave thinking about the biting social commentary of the state of affairs in our country…

Collingwood’s Woodplayers have brought to life one of Dario Fo’s most notoriously difficult plays in an engaging and riveting manner. Their take on ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ updates the play to a contemporary London location. The set is simple but highly effective; a large table and two chairs dominate the stage – setting up the battleground in which the characters dominate in the ensuing two hours. It is certainly a complex play that carries with it a dense volume of political commentary, but the actors and creative team handle it brilliantly, delivering a production that is fundamentally excellent.

The play’s first scene establishes its overall tone brilliantly: the Maniac (Daniel Benton) is introduced as the cerebral, but utterly insane central character whose extemporaneous outbursts constitute a large quantity of the play’s runtime. Benton is outstanding in this role, embracing the character as an empty canvas on which he spins his own truly glorious interpretation. He impressively navigates us through a whirlwind of political jargon and witty aphorisms as he disorientates and subsequently extracts information from the bewildered crop of police officers he encounters in the play’s one location. Indeed, the Maniac is very much Fo’s method to funnel his political commentary (after all, this is a play based on real-life police corruption in Italy), and Benton never lets this faze him, embracing the dramatic irony and comic relief that so excellently reveal Fo’s deeper critiques on state authority, capitalism, and bureaucracy.

Denton is joined on stage by an exemplary troupe of talented actors: Samuel Bentley and Oliver Butler as the Superintendent and Sportsjacket respectively stand out in particular, proving to be an especially humorous comedic duo. Bentley is great as the commanding Superintendent who presides over his subordinates with a hard shoulder. His transition into a snivelling, snotty mess as the Maniac deftly runs circles around him – exposing his police station as a hotbox of lies and corruption – is all the more brilliant due to Bentley’s great range. Butler, likewise, delivers a supremely intelligent comedic performance – always knowing how to extract laughs from the audience even when he isn’t saying anything. He is almost the complete foil to Bentley’s Superintendent – a jumpy, but easy-to-aggravate officer whose boundless energy and hilarious interjections mean it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him.

Ed Clark gives a fun supporting performance as Bertozzo – the inspector who the Maniac first encounters. Bertozzo’s exasperation is channelled very well by Clark throughout, proving particularly humorous in the play’s chaotic final scene. Connie Duggan is likewise good as the obedient Constable, albeit slightly underused (a fault of the writing more than anything), and she responds well to the more authoritarian voices around her, always ensuring that she perpetuates the web of lies when prompted in an entertaining manner. Alexa Thanni disrupts the hierarchy in the second half as the journalist who brings with her a number of damaging facts that further disrupt proceedings. Thanni commands the stage, introducing a Brechtian sphere to the play as she reels off real-life statistics about police corruption, using the space the stage has to offer to further highlight her authority.

The play as a whole is excellently directed (Tabby Thompson, assisted by Lily Gilchrist) and injected with a lot of dynamic movement and subtle staging. Given the wordiness and infamous trickery of the script, plaudits must also be extended to the directorial team for ensuring that the actors delivered their lines effectively.

It was not a production without its faults, but these were often minor and didn’t detract from the overall impact. Some areas of the stage were poorly lit, especially on the fringes, meaning it was sometimes hard to see the action, although the tech elements (under guidance from production manager Rory Collins) were good for the most part. Furthermore, at the end of the first act there was a dance number that lost its comedic impact because of its length; a punchier ending would have crowned what was otherwise a brilliant addition to the original text. Indeed, these additions to the text in updating the play to the London setting are mostly great – a particularly humorous one being the posters of current and ex-Conservative leaders circulating between scenes on the wall – but it just felt like this thread overall could be developed and integrated into the play even more, abetting the already strong political undertones at the heart of Fo’s play.

Still, at its very root, the Woodplayers’ iteration of Accidental Death of an Anarchist is supremely excellent. Go to enjoy a night of wonderfully farcical comedy but expect to leave thinking about the biting social commentary of the state of affairs in our country in this day and age. Joyous stuff for a frosty January midweek!

By Ollie Cochran

Accidental Death of an Anarchist will continue to show on Thursday the 18th and Friday the 19th of January at 19:30 in the Mark Hillery Arts Centre