Dario Fo ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’

A flash back to the seventies and early eighties for me, Dario Fo and the posters for his plays in the west end, ‘Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’ or as here ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’, titles that invited curiosity.imageSo who was Dario Fo? He was a successful actor producer and playwright who in the sixties left the mainline theatre behind to better criticise the political situation in Italy.

‘In 1967 he put on his last production for the bourgeois theatre “La Signora non è da buttare” (The lady’s not for Discarding), in which a circus was made the vehicle for an attack on the United States and capitalist society in general. It again attracted the attention of the authorities. Fo was called to police headquarters in Milan and threatened with arrest for “offensive lines” not included in the approved version, attacking a head of state, Lyndon Johnston.’

Fo went on with his wife Franca Rame And their company La Comune to write and produce political satire. Including the subject of this post.

An introduction from the authors notes would be useful here:

‘On the 12 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 Pinelli had committed suicide……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;’

The play opens in police headquarters in Milan a few weeks after the incident, in a first floor office directly below the fourth floor office of the “Accidental Death”. We make the acquaintance of the Maniac who has been arrested for impersonation, as Inspector Bertozzo says:

‘This isn’t the first time you’ve been up for impersonation is it? In all you have been arrested…let me see…Twice as a surgeon, three times as a bishop, army captain, tennis umpire….’

As in any farce, we have the central character “the Maniac” who is clearly farcical and able to do and say anything outside of normal behavioural norms amid ordinary people, and by the end of the play we may not know who is farcical and who is normal.

After the first introductory scene, the maniac is put in the situation whereby he impersonates the judge that we learn has been named to carry out a second inquiry into the “events”. So initially impersonating the judge, the maniac turns the police explanations inside out

Maniac: Let us see what provoked this anxiety in our anarchist therefore. We shall reconstruct the exact events beginning with your entrance Superintendant
Maniac: I’ll play the anarchist. Go on.

Superintendent: I entered
Maniac: Go on then
Superintendent: What?
Maniac: Enter.
Superintendent: ‘It’s no use trying to pull the wool over my eyes, sonny.’
Maniac: That’s not what I’ve got here. This is a documentary reconstruction. I want the exact words in the exact manner.
Superintendent re-exits and re-enters aggressively
Superintendent: ‘Right you filthy pox-ridden pansy you piss me off about one more time and I’ll…!
Maniac: Sorry to interrupt. It was ‘piss me about’?
Superintendent: I think so.
Maniac: Good. Carry on.
Superintendent: ‘We’ve got incontrovertible proof you’re the murdering turd who planted the bombs in the railway station.’
Maniac: You had this proof I assume?
Superintendent: Of course not.’

And to reinforce the farce, when a journalist arrives, they agree that the judge ( maniac) will play a police inspector and this time defend them, doing of course as much damage to their case as when he was investigating them.

I laughed a little uneasily throughout this easy to read play but recommend it whole heartedly as a historical document, I mean, nothing like this could happen now could it?

I asked at the start of this who was Dario Fo? I will now finish off with who is Dario Fo? He is of course the 1997 Nobel literature prize winner

First Published in Italian as “Morte accidentale di un anarchico ” by Dario Fo in 1970
Translated into English by Gillian Hanna and published as “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” by Pluto press in 1980

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