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Norwich production of absurdist classic Accidental Death of an Anarchist

PUBLISHED: 16:10 23 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:38 24 November 2017

Will Harragan and Hattie Scopes in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo: Sean Owen

Will Harragan and Hattie Scopes in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo: Sean Owen

Sean Evans

Italian Nobel laureate Dario Fo's classic farce with a political sting in the tail, which centres on exposing the truth about a death in police custody, is being staged at the Sewell Barn Theatre in a new production.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Sewell Barn Theatre. Photo: Sean OwenAccidental Death of an Anarchist at Sewell Barn Theatre. Photo: Sean Owen

A man has fallen to his death from a police station window. Did he jump or was he pushed? The cops want a cover up, but first they have to contend with an unlikely detective – a certified lunatic with a knack for impersonation.

Written by Italian Nobel laureate Dario Fo in 1970, Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a farce with a political sting in its tail that has become an absurdist classic. It is the latest production at the Sewell Barn Theatre in Norwich.

A death in police custody is an unusual subject for a farce. It shouldn’t be funny, but it is.

The play is based on the real-life events surrounding Italian railwayman and anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell – or was thrown – to his death from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station in 1969. Pinelli was accused of bombing a bank (the Piazza Fontana bombing) but was cleared of the charge. The events of the play, however, are fictional.

Emma Kirkham and Vincent M Gaines in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo: Sean OwenEmma Kirkham and Vincent M Gaines in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo: Sean Owen

First staged not long after his death, it shows a revolutionary called Maniac who adopts a series of disguises to infiltrate the police office, masquerading as an examining magistrate who has come to re-open the case and investigate the official versions of how the anarchist-suspect came to end up as “jam sponge”.

Read our view of Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Adapted by Gavin Richards, translated by Gillian Hanna, the Swell Barn proudtcion, which opens this weekend , features gender-blind casting – initially for pragmatic reasons, then developed for new interpretative insights and comic effects.

The Maniac is played with boundless energy and inspiration by Hattie Scopes, whilst the brutish and corrupt police are played by Vincent M. Gaine and Emma Kirkham. Additional acting magic is provided by Jess Hutchings, Dom Sands and Will Harragan.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Sewell Barn Theatre. Photo: Sean OwenAccidental Death of an Anarchist at Sewell Barn Theatre. Photo: Sean Owen

The play’s director, Karl Hartland, said: “In the English language, anarchism often connotes chaos, lawlessness, and violence. The Milanese police in the play actively cultivate this association. But life lived without a ruling elite also has the potential to be the peaceful bedrock upon which effective alternatives to harmful modes of power can be built. Indeed, laughter is an effective tool against corruption and the abuse of power, one beloved of the British and Italians alike.”

The production, which runs until December 2, contains strong language, false limbs and loud explosions, and may also involve flying confectionery!

• Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Sewell Barn Theatre, Constitution Hill, Norwich, November 23-25/29-30 and December 1-2, £9 (£7 cons), 01603 626414, sewellbarn.org.uk

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