Thursday 2nd May to Saturday 4th May and Tuesday 7th May to Saturday 11th May 1985
Directed by Frank Lyons
An Italian railway worker 'falls' to his death from a Police Headquarters window. Our faith in law and order is tested in this farcical satire on official deceit.
'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' was written in 1970 and premiered the same year in Varese, Italy. The production toured Italy playing to audiences totalling more than a million by theatre group, Collettivo Teatrale La Comune. It received its UK premiere in 1980.
The play opens with Inspector Bertozzo interrogating The Maniac, a histrionic character, on the first floor of the police station. The Maniac, however, 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 who is trying to probe the events.
'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' has its origins in real events that took place in Italy. A few days before Christmas on 12th December 1969, a bomb exploded in the Agricultural Bank in Milan. It was a massacre - more than 16 dead. The anarchists were immediately blamed for the slaughter. One of them, Giovanni Pinelli, having been taken to police headquarters, flew out of the window on the fourth floor. The police declared that the real culprits were no other than Valpreda, Gargabelli, and the other members of the Milan group.
Ten years later at Catanzaro in Southern Italy, the trial resulting from the slaughter in Milan came to an end. Three fascists were condemned to prison for being materially responsible for the crime. One of them Giannettini, turned out to be an agent for the Italian secret police; it was thus confirmed beyond all doubt that the instigators of the crime has been the organisations entrusted with the 'protection' of the Italian state. The instigators, as was clear from the sentence of the court, were to be found among the upper ranks of the military and political institutions. Ministers and generals were brought into court - but it all ended as usual, in a great smoke-screen. Generals and ministers were first condemned and then acquitted. It was only the criminal 'labour force' that went into prison.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. It was followed on five nights by two alternating Bench Fringe Theatre productions - 'The Execution of Miss Stefanini' and 'Lunch Girls'.
|Musicians||Lyn Collins |
|Pinelli the Anarchist||Russell|
|Stage Manager||Robbie Cattermole|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Jane Hart|
|Set Design||Mike Wave|
|Set Construction||Pete Codd |
|Musical Director||Lyn Collins|
The play is a dramatisation of fictional events taking place after an 'accidental death' similar to that following the 1969 Milan bombing. Although the play is set in Italy the events have a pertinence to Britain today. The 'only doing my job' policeman, the secrecy and cover-ups and the power of strengthening central state are problems with which we are all familiar.
Political theatre needs to avoid preaching to its audience and consequently dramatists have often resorted to forms which distance their work from their immediate society; Brecht and Arden often set their plays in the past, others discuss politics through analogy (Arthur Miller) or allegory (Max Frisch). Dario Fo's 'Anarchist' is however set firmly in contemporary political debates but avoids preaching through its humour. Much of the humour comes from the Maniac's play-acting in the play. The political plot is however more complex for the Maniac reveals his ultra-left Trotskyism and confronts both the political police of the right and the paler pink communism of the investigative journalist Feletti. The sharp and satirical humour makes the politics more palatable. Laughter, says Fo's wife, the actress Franca Rame, opens not only people's mouths but their minds as well and allows some shafts of reason to strike home. So ultimately the audience is asked to judge between the strong arm tactics of the radical right, the militant and softer left and the anarchism which is victimised in the original murder of Pinelli and entertains through the play acting Maniac. Anarchism is a politics in opposition to bureaucratic red tape, unquestioning conformism, the dogmas of both left and right politics and the conventions most of which we learnt at school.
Serge Morel is making his Bench debut. Discovered break-dancing in Commercial Road he has also played in Portsmouth Polydrama. Pete Holding returns to the ineffectual role he has played before as Baron Wadd in 'Old King Cole' and Roderigo in 'Othello'. Peter Corrigan escapes from the type-casting he suffered as Max in 'Bent' and Ed in 'Entertaining Mr Sloane' to practise the more authoritarian side to his character. Terry Cattermole's naval background was an invaluable asset to the director who had no idea about rank orders. Terry has played the Fascist before as the S.S. Captain in 'Bent' but was also the irritatingly enthusiastic cricket organiser Roger in 'Outside Edge'. Pete Woodward - Company Sergeant Major Rivers in 'Accrington Pals' likes dressing up in uniforms and was the natural for the 'only doing my job' constables. Unfortunately Jane Fonda was not available to play the investigative reporter Feletti so Jo German with previous parts amongst others, Imogen in 'Cross Your Heart' and Amy Johnson in 'Johnnie' took the only female role. Frankie Lyons the director is an anarchic lecturer from Portsmouth Polytechnic. This is his first Bench play as director but has acted most recently as Eilert Loevborg in 'Hedda Gabler'.
To turn politics into hilarious farce requires more ingenuity than you might think, but Italian playwright Dario Fo is a master of the art. How else could the real life cover-up of a brutal murder be made to seem funny? Sounds unlikely, but it is in 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist', the latest production from Havant's Bench Theatre. The cast clearly enjoy themselves hugely performing this play, and so does the audience. Only at the very end when asked to judge by the "nutter" who has been controlling the action, do the people in the theatre realise that they have been tricked by their enjoyment of the play into thinking through serious anarchical thoughts. This demonstrates how effective theatre can be as a vehicle for political debate.
This production is notable for two firsts - Frankie Lyons as director, and Serge Morel in the central role of the maniac. Apart from a little self indulgence by including some in-jokes, the director's use of shock tricks to make the audience jump outside the play then fall back in, came off in style, and every opportunity to win audience compliance was well milked. The energy of body-popping, Russian-dancing acrobatic Serge was a joy to behold and kept up the momentum of the farce. He has a hell of a lot of script to get off his chest, and if he sometimes had to sacrifice getting his tongue round every word for the sake of pace, fair enough. Of the four nasty coppers, Peter Corrigan was such a vicious-looking brute that he made Terry Cattermole seem like a very nice chap to be with. Pete Woodward's gum-chewing flatfoot doesn't have much to say but all his little gestures sum up the Jobsworth.
'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' is performed from tonight to Saturday at 7.30 p.m. in Havant Arts Centre. After tonight's and Saturday's show, there is also a related "Fringe event" - 'The Death of Miss Stephani' by Bench Chairperson, Jacquie Penrose. Janet Simpson gives a very moving portrayal of a poor simple woman whose blameless life is ended by political violence.
The News, 3rd May 1985