This week sees Masquerade Theatre present the start of its run of The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, an award-winning political play by Dario Fo. Here, Jo Caruana sits down with director Ian Moore to discuss why this play is more current now than ever.  

Some things never change – and the importance of fighting for truth and justice is one of them.

Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo’s 1970 play The Accidental Death of an Anarchist is centred on that very theme. Based on real life events, it looks into a 1969 incident in which an anarchist railway worker, Giuseppe Pinelli, was arrested in connection with a terrorist bombing in Milan, and then fell to his death from a fourth-storey window at the police station during the course of the interrogation. His death was officially declared a suicide but not everyone was convinced, and subsequent investigation revealed his innocence.

With his play, Fo set out to demolish the official story in a production at his collective, La Commune. In doing so, he created one of his most successful roles – that of the Maniac (played in this production by Pia Zammit) – who impersonates a few people in a fight to get the police to admit to what they did wrong. The Maniac, one of the most successful characters Fo ever wrote, resembles the Zanni figure of Commedia dell’Arte, and the playwright has referred to his own piece as a ‘grotesque farce’. 

“In this play Karl Marx meets the Marx Brothers in a remarkable blend of vaudeville and politics,” explains director Ian Moore, who is putting the production together as part of Masquerade’s new theatrical season. “In all honesty, it’s a blend that shouldn’t work. But it does... with criminally comical effect. For many years we have seen political theatre as glum, dour, depressing and unimaginative, but the work of Fo’s plays such as Mistero Buffo, Can’t Pay Won’t Pay and The Accidental Death of an Anarchist buck that trend.”

Masquerade’s contemporary take on Fo’s classic farce will use an all-female cast to offer new insights into the famous tale. As well as the comedic mileage from having traditionally male roles played by women, the rare female perspective on bureaucracy also promises to explore what institutional corruption within a system means to women.

The piece is a potent reminder that mistakes of yearsgone by are still being repeated

“The piece is a potent reminder that mistakes of years gone by are still being repeated. We do not really learn from historical errors and, in the current climate in Malta, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a brave choice for Masquerade. The parallels to modern-day Malta are obvious but, in staying true to the original, we will let the audience take from it what they wish. We are simply having fun telling this particular story, however tragic that tale is,” Moore continues.

Telling that tale will be a cast of very experienced performers. Accompanying Zammit, will be Louiselle Vassallo, Antonella Axisa, Maria Caruana, Gabriella Mendes and Samantha Gauci.

“The cast is delighting in Fo’s hair’s-breadth combination of political exposé and pungent vaudeville,” Moore continues. “But why an all-female cast when the original is almost all male? Well, I have felt that there are so few challenges for female performers in the theatre. Historically, the first noted female performer, Margaret Hughes, took to the stage in the late 17th century, however it isn’t until the mid-20th century that the female voice was heard with any clarity. Within a lot of theatre the ‘female voice’ is very hard to hear.”

As the director explains, within The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the grotesque and surreal elements of the original are almost all masculine – the only voice of reason is female but the real questions, the real message, all comes from male voices. “As a director, I felt it would be an exciting exploration to see the female perspective, as I believed it would add a further level of the absurd and it would be damned funny.”

In this adaptation, the all-female cast don’t play female versions of the original male roles, they play men. “It is intriguing to watch, to see how a female performer perceives what it is to be a man,” Moore goes on to say. “The tone doesn’t really change and the pace is breakneck, with wonderful comedic performances from all involved.”

The absurd aspect of the show, meanwhile, comes out of the text. Moore stresses the cast hasn’t had to find it; it is in black and white on the page coming directly from an historical event that, even 50 years later, still remains a cold case.

“The real event was beyond bizarre,” Moore says. “And the cover-up is still among the most unique cases across the globe.

“So now we are all looking forward to bringing that story to life and are – collectively as cast and crew – working to our common goal: opening night. And in collaborating, we play. I don’t think I have laughed so much in a rehearsal room for many, many years. I hope our audiences will find the piece poignant, thought-provoking and funny. I expect they will be entertained, as well as challenged in what they think,” he adds. 

Masquerade’s production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo will be staged at Blue Box - M Space, Oscar Zammit Street, Msida on November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17, with all performances starting at 8pm. Tickets and more information are available online at www.masquerademalta.com.

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