Crimes of the state

June 8, 1994

Accidental Death of an Anarchist
By Dario Fo
Director: Robyn Archer
Cast includes: Mick Molloy, Stephen Rae and Vince Sorrenti
Footbridge Theatre, Sydney, until June 19
Reviewed by Arun Pradhan

The twisted perspective of the comic book set; the toy cars running laps around the stage heralding the beginning of the play; the colourful, shoulder-padded costumes reminiscent of Dick Tracy cartoons: it certainly left me curious as to what was to come.

What I was to discover was a rendition of Dario Fo's work given an Australian setting. The original story was inspired by the death of Giuseppe Pinelli in Italy during the late 1960s. Pinelli, an anarchist, "fell" from a fourth floor window of the Milanese police headquarters while being questioned about a bombing. Despite targeting left-wing militants, the court revealed that fascists were behind the bombing.

Justice in action? Hardly: the case took a decade before finally determining the guilt of the fascists as well as their direct links with Italian secret police, and after all of that two of the three escaped over seas. And of course it was all academic for Pinelli, whose fall was notched up as yet another "accidental death".

The play itself is set in the aftermath of such a case and centres on an extroverted confessed madman (a seemingly perfect role for the Late Show's Mick Molloy) with an obsession for impersonating people. In the guise of a judicial investigator, he begins to unravel the tangled and contradictory stories of the police.

Fo is devastatingly unforgiving of those who have illusions in the justice system. Often when such stories are exposed, they are represented as exceptions or horrible travesties resulting from the actions of a few "bad apples". Not so here. Fo emphasises that such state crimes are widespread and systematic, even pointing out that the odd scandal acts like a pressure valve, allowing the public to let off some steam.

Archer effectively illustrates this theme with many topical examples, from the Hilton bombing to the seemingly never ending deaths in custody (it is indicative that there are so many current instances to choose from). Unfortunately the production does have difficulty in reconciling the entertainment with the message, and at times the two become very separated. However, at its best the humour of the play provides an excellent medium for Fo's ideas, which are as relevant today as they ever were.

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