Social Media

Accidental Death of an Anarchist - Review

Writer: Amelia Bascombe

53 years on from when it was first written, does this play still hold up in today’s society? As Fraud once said, there are ‘no such thing as accidents’.

Photo by Helen Murray

Following great runs at both the Sheffield Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith, Accidental Death of an Anarchist takes over the reigns of the beloved Theatre Royal Haymarket with terrific creatives Tom Basden (writer) and Daniel Raggett (director) at its helm. Written by Dario Fo in 1970, the play takes inspiration from the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing and the subsequent death of Giuseppe Pinelli while in police interrogation. Lead by BAFTA award winning actor Daniel Rigby, the show magically fuses together comedy while an incredibly prevalent meaning - police misconduct. As someone who didn’t know anything about the show before watching, I was apprehensive as to what to expect, but blimey, what a stellar piece of theatre I experienced.

Beginning with the character named ’the maniac’ being interrogated by the Met for faking jobs and personalities, we come to understand that he is desperate for a stage and a chance to shine. Seizing the opportunity to pretend to be a judge in a case of potential suicide on the 4th floor, Daniel Rigby exudes charisma and charm, and is our main narrator throughout the play. He pulls off each different character impeccably and soars to new heights of theatre. Perhaps once of the best acting performances of 2023, Rigby also leans into the idea of breaking the fourth wall and regularly keeps the audience in the loop. My favourite example of this was him mocking latecomers, which you could tell was improv but it just worked so well. Furthermore, the play itself and its writer get a few nods throughout, much to the confusion of the other actors on stage which makes it even funnier. While he started the play in a heightened state of excitement and without the ability to sit still, these attributes only got more intense as time went on, culminating in a climax of emotion towards the end that left the audience on the edge of their seat.

Tony Gardner gave a compelling performance as Superintendent Curry and bounced off of Rigby’s character very well. Initially coming across as angry and cold, it seems this character has quite a few layers and in unfeeling each one at a time, we get even more comedy moments from him. Sharing the stage with the character that Rigby has created must be challenging, but Gardner holds his own and provides a nice contrast between the characters. He plays on the stereotype of the Met police and pulls off what could be an unlikable character well.

Photo by Helen Murray

Completing the line up as actors is Tom Andrews as Detective Daisy, Mark Hadfield as Inspector Burton, Ro Kumar as Agent Joseph, and Ruby Thomas as Fi Phelan/PC Jackson. Andrews gives a great typical London performance as Daisy and positions himself as the Danny Dyer of the group. Him and Rigby also share some great comedy moments, especially with Kumar thrown into the mix as Agent Joseph. The 4 characters spend the most time onstage together and the opening of Act Two was marvellous. My only criticism of the group was that sometimes a pause after a joke wouldn’t land and therefore we couldn’t hear the next line over audience laughter. Every audience is different and subjective, and so figuring out when the most predictable laughs will come and accommodating for that will take time. 

At the core of this play is a serious issue regarding police misconduct. As the story develops, we can pick out certain themes and understand what the play is trying to achieve through the use of comedy. At the interval, I remember thinking to myself, ‘wow this is actually quite meaningful’, and then as act two progressed, I realised that was the whole point. The projection at the end, stating how many deaths there have been in police custody (which was nearly 2000), provides a sudden return back to reality. It also allows us to think back over the play and realise which plot points were subtle hints to this message. An incredible way to get people talking about such a prevalent issue in today’s society.

The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a great setting for this play and the round nature of the theatre means there’s not a bad seat in house. The simple setting feels encapsulating which is a testament to the wonderful performances. Having seen Heathers and Only Fools and Horses at this theatre, it can be easy to get lost as the seats go further back, but this play uses this to it’s strengths and makes jokes about ‘cheap seats’ and reaching the people at the back. 

The play runs until September 9th and I would urge anyone to give it a watch. An unexpected triumph fuelled by some of the best performances of the year.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tickets for the Accidental Death of an Anarchist are available from

Photo by Helen Murray

Post a Comment


Theme by STS