This farce by Nobel-prize winning Italian playwright Dario Fo is his most acclaimed play and has been performed all over the world. But in this English version by Simon Nye something, perhaps almost everything, seems to have been lost in translation.
The Maniac, played here by Sam Knights, has spent time in sixteen mental institutions for impersonating authority figures such as bishops and psychiatrists and is being interrogated by the hapless Inspector Bertozzo, played by Jack Needham, at the beginning of the play. The wheels of farce are truly set in motion, though, when the Maniac decides to pass himself off as a high-court judge who has come to the police station in order to investigate how an anarchist in police custody ended up plunging to his death from a fourth floor window.
The irrepressibly energetic Sam Knights, who had a touch of Basil Fawlty about him, certainly carried the play. He had the dynamism and versatility to go from imitating a decrepit old bishop to impersonating a Scottish forensic specialist with a peg leg, all the while retaining the disconcerting glint of madness in his eye. Had the script been funnier or contained more than a few flashes of genuine wit, it would have been a match made in heaven. Nevertheless, a few slapstick additions of his own, including a Monty Pythonesque sequence of silly walks, and a bundle of exuberant natural charm held the humour together throughout.
As the entire play is being dictated by a serial-impersonator who declares himself stark raving mad in the opening scene it seems as if anything goes. The characters are free to burst into a rendition of The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Where is the Love?’ seemingly at random, which, though funny, points to the confused nature of the plot. Indeed, any sense of urgency or of a trajectory towards a resolution at the end of the play is undermined by the fact that we do not care about the anarchist as he never appears on stage and is never developed as a character.
All in all, the cast, and above all Sam Knights, did well to grapple with a farce that is tricky to get right.
Death of an Anarchist is at Corpus Playroom, 7.00pm until Saturday. Tickets can be bought here.