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Accidental Death of an Anarchist

By Dario Fo

Adapted by Gavin Richards

Accidental Death of an Anarchist (or Morte accidentale di un anarchico) is probably Fo’s best known work and, since it’s Italian premiere in 1970, has been performed in over 40 countries in languages including Urdu, Sinahalese and Mandarin. The play a farce based on the real-life events concerning Giuseppe Pinelli, a Milanese railway worker who in 1969 was picked up by the police, accused of railway-station bombings and who “fell” out of a fourth-floor window at police HQ (later he was finally absolved from any responsibility for the bombings).Drawing heavily on Commedia Dell Arte, Fo presents the Maniac as a modern interpretation of the Harlequin; a mischievous troublemaker who succeeds in exposing the ridiculous corruption, lies and self-interest that plagues so many authority figures. The target here is the police but it could be any political organisation that does something reprehensible and then struggle to cover it up.

The play opens with Inspector Bertozzo interrogating The Maniac on the third floor of the police station. The Maniac constantly outsmarts the dim-witted Bertozzo and, when Bertozzo leaves the room, intercepts a phone call from Inspector Pissani. The phone call lets the Maniac know that a judge is due at the police station to investigate the interrogation and death of the anarchist. The Maniac decides to impersonate the judge, and successfully does so. He gets the police to re-enact the events, in the actual fourth floor room, and also involves a woman Journalist, Maria Feletti, who is trying to probe the events.

As with much of Fo’s work, there have been numerous adaptations and translations. This version, by Gavin Richards, was filmed and aired by Channel 4 on 23rd December 1985.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

The playwright - Dario Fo

Dario Fo was born on 26 March 1926 in San Giano, a small town on Lago Maggiore in the province of Varese. His father was a part time actor in an amateur theatre company and Dario spent vacations with his maternal grandfather, who had a farm in Lomellina. During Dario’s visits, his grandfather would travel around the countryside selling his produce from a big, horse-drawn wagon. To attract customers he would tell the most amazing stories, and in these stories he would insert news and anecdotes about local events. It was from his grandfather that Dario began to learn the rudiments of narrative rhythm. As the boy grew, he would sit in the taverns or the piazze and listen tirelessly to the master glass-blowers and fishermen, who – in the oral tradition of the fabulatore – would swap tall tales, steeped in pungent political satire. At first Fo turned his hand to set design and many of his plays utilise the set as part of the story or to add comedy. Eventually he began to improvise monologues and eventually turned his hand to writing. In 1959 Fo and his wife Franca Rame founded the first of their theatre companies. Some of Fo’s greatest plays include: Mistero Buffo, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay! And Trumpets and Raspberries.

To date Dario Fo has written over 70 plays, many in collaboration with Franca Rame. He has directed and performed in theatres all over the world and is one of the world’s most performed playwrights with his plays being produced in 54 countries. He has been refused entry to the USA for alleged Communist sympathies, been attacked, threatened with assassination, censored, banned for 15 years from Italian state owned radio and TV and Franca Rame was once kidnapped and raped by facists opposed to their work.

In 1997 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech he said: “…when the theatre is ironic, grotesque, it’s above all then that you have to defend it, because the theatre that makes people laugh is the theatre of human reason.”

Parts of this have been adapted from Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1997, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1998 and translated by Paul Claesson.