Deborah McAndrew’s thoroughly updated adaptation is, in some (but only some) contrast, set (characteristically for Northern Broadsides), in Yorkshire in 2008 (the bank is the Agricultural Bank of Bingley, which shows you just how up to date this performance is, given Bradford and Bingley’s days-old takeover). There are references to citizenship tests, ID cards, CCTV cameras, arms deals with Saudi Arabia, DNA testing – and, more pointedly, to Britain’s own scandal and tragic death of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, and the feeble verdict of police infringement of health and safety legislation.
So far, so serious. But Dario Fo accomplishes his biting satire about the system and the media through slapstick, farce, hugely exaggerated movements, costume, song (George Formby is there too), disguise upon disguise, witty self-referential comments from the actors, and being generally outrageous. The applause at the interval was notably enthusiastic, and Director Conrad Nelson is to be congratulated for bringing all this off with pace and smoothness. Satire through slapstick may not be everyone’s thing – which doesn’t mean you don’t find you are sitting there with a grin on your face. But Fo’s genius, like J.B. Priestley’s in the earlier An Inspector Calls, is to have a mysterious central figure – here, Michael Hugo’s ‘The Maniac’ – whose masquerading authority acts to reveal institutional corruption, cover-ups and worse.
The Maniac’s final diatribe against the British state is articulated in front of a chilling physical representation of what could plausibly have happened to the anarchist.
The cast appeared to be enjoying themselves hugely (including their occasional very funny stumbles and ad libs). Michael Hugo’s performance was a tour de force – though his Jim Carey-style characterisation of The Maniac was enjoyed by some of my companions more than others. Audience members will have their own favourite performances, but mine were from Matt Connor (Constables 1 and 2), and Neil Cable (the DCI), who both paradoxically managed to achieve being absurd and natural at the same time.
If you’ve never seen this play, do (it’s likely to be unlike anything else you’ve ever seen); if you have, go and see McAndrew’s and Connor’s production. As Connor writes, “this classic will remain popular for as long as authority is responsible for breaches of trust”. True – but it’s not an easy play to perform well. Northern Broadsides are to be congratulated for doing just that.
– Jane Sunderland
The Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo runs at The Dukes (The Rake) until to Saturday 4 October 2008. Box Office 0845 344 0644 Web: www.dukes-lancaster.org
Time: 8 p.m. (plus matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m.) Tickets: Monday - Friday 8pm: £15 (£10); Saturday 8pm: £17.50 (£12.50); Matinee: £10.00 (£7.50); Schools: £7.50, one teacher free for every ten pupils.
Groups: 12+ save £1 per ticket, 50+ save £1.50 per ticket. Not valid
with any other offer. £5 bargain tickets:a limited numer of £5 bargain tickets are available for each performance. Please book on the day, in person, after 10am. Limited to 2 per person.
• Northern Broadsides Official Site
• Review of Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay Wont Pay, performed recently by members of the Dukes Youth Theatre at DT3
• Dario Fo information on the Noble Prize web site
• Dario Fo "Notable Quotes"
• OnlineReviewLondon Review of an earlier production of Accidental Death at the Donmar Warehouse, London
• BBC News: Jean Charles de Menezes
Performances of Accidental Death of an Anarchist later this year...
• Wed 8 – Sun 12 October: Greenwich Theatre Box Office: 0208 858 7755
• Thursday 16 & Sat 18 October: Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond Box Office: 01748 825 252
• Tue 21 & Wed 22 October The Riverfront, Newport Box Office: 01633 656 757
• Fri 24 & Sat 25 October Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea Box Office: 01792 602060
• Wed 29 Oct – Sat 1 November Thoresby Park, Notts Box Office: 0844 586 5365
• Tue 4 – Sat 8 November: Liverpool Playhouse Box Office: 0151 709 4776
• Tue 11 – Sat 15 November: New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme Box Office: 01782 717 962
• Mon 17 & Tue 18 November: Lincoln Performing Arts Centre Box Office: 0844 8884414
• Fri 21 & Sat 22 November: Buxton Opera House Box Office: 0845 1272190
• Mon 24 – Sat 29 November: Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough Box Office: 01723 370541
• Wed 3 – Sat 6 December: Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield 01484 430528