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Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Three River Theatre
Earl Arts Centre

November 9th, 2022

Since Dario Fo’s 1970’s satirical farce Accidental Death of an Anarchist first premiered, the political landscape has unfortunately not changed substantially. The extremities so riotously tackled throughout this play are regrettably still an all-too-common occurrence fifty years later. Regarded as a classic of the Absurdist genre, Accidental Death of An Anarchist satirises events in 1960’s Italy, surrounding the death of an Anarchist who “Accidentally” falls from a fourth story window during a police interrogation.  Over the last five years, our media feeds have been littered with distressing news stories from all around the world, pertaining to extremism, unlawful police brutality, harassment, and violence, that disastrously make our world feel less safe for those whose views or beliefs don’t align with another’s. Who then, in this case, would be considered an Anarchist? Is anybody who speaks up against a powerful body, become a subject to such scrutiny? Does our desire for individuality, freedom and justice then become something we fear? Three River Theatre’s production; set inside a dingy police station interior, revives this discussion.

Amending the long absence of this production from the Launceston theatrical community, Three River provides us with a freshly modern adaptation that challenges the perceptions on what it takes to be an individual. Our lead, lovingly titled “The Maniac’ (running ferociously rampant by Matt Harris), is such a unique character. The anarchy he brings to the drearily austere police headquarters is due to his uncompromising and flamboyant dissonance to the others. This conspicuous disruption causes the chaos to boil over and with his resolute determination to challenge, a weaponized individualism is the source that extends this repetitive cycle.

Matt Harris’ performance of the enviable “Maniac” is exhaustingly combative but a delicious opportunity for Harris to excel. Harris is a very successful comedic actor, with his own individual brand of slapstick humour and madcap energy that we have seen on display in his many performances of 2022. His first scene is littered with fourth wall breaking, meta theatrics and the comically hilarious schtick that we have become accustomed to from a Harris performance. While understanding your brand is an important element to sustaining a career; Harris is a talented performer that I want to see stretch himself and the depths of his trick bag. I felt he began the show falling into the trap of using his high-octane energy and adlib to overshadow what the script was giving him.  My biggest example was during a conversation he had with himself on the phone, where I felt the humour that the script provided was lost or underappreciated, and instead was exchanged for his own madcap humour and adlib. This had him dangerously close to becoming a one-trick-pony, which left me desperately searching and longing for more.

However, after he assumes his first “Character” his performance develops completely in a new direction, with his usual traits blending into his exquisite character building and physicalisations. His comical adlib now works to create characters that he pushes to the extreme and in turn, these personas become grounded (but maniacal) and utterly hilarious. I was extremely pleased from that point on, that my initial concerns were quelled and we were able to witness a new side of Harris’ talents, who did dive deep into his bag of tricks to pull out one of his most astonishingly impressive displays of character physicalisation. He guaranteed this production never slowed down and like the “Maniac” he was playing, weaponized his own individualism to create one of the standout performances of 2022.

Leigh Oswin and Robbie Bleakley were able to use their creative backgrounds in Parkour and Gymnastics, to execute many moments of hilarious physical comedy as the Inspector and Superintendent. Both characters had the luxury of diverting from aggressively physical, to desperately vulnerable; with a little bit of odd sexual tension mixed in for good measure. Both had repeated moments of highly choreographed physical theatre and some excellent comedic moments, (Eg: Robbie’s childlike Inspector who would walk away and stand with his face against the wall when he said or did something wrong), that made me belly laugh all night.

Jack Oates-Prior as Bertozzo, began with an extremely thick SCOTTISH accent that hampered slightly his dialogue clarity in the opening moments of the show. After the nerves settled, he seemed to relax into his accent, and it became clearer as the show went on. However, being the only actor to pursue a strongly foreign accent, he did clash with the other actors, and it blurred the lines about where the show was set. This may have been a way to create universality for the story, but it did feel like an over complication. Bertozzo’s character was subjected to the brunt of the police brutality, and the depictions on stage of acts representing world-wide events (Most notably the George Floyd murder) were enough to establish this universality.

Gabriel Walton-Clear, with one of the smaller roles, became the physical embodiment of the saying “There are no small parts.” He had so many cheeky moments of slapstick comedy that unless looking at him, may not have necessarily been seen amongst the chaos of the show. Whenever he was on stage was a highlight, as I would find myself looking for what he would do next when no one was watching. (Keep an eye out for what he puts in his cup of tea.) Lucy Pullen returned to the stage for her first theatrical outing in four years as the sexually charged female journalist. I’m not certain whether this character was written to be performed this way, but her interpretation adds to the biting satire. She was perfectly sceptical and sexually manipulative, getting the desired response out of the men she was exploiting, which assisted with forming an excellent representation of the suggestions regarding a policeman’s sexual fantasies with manipulating the media.

Troy Ridgway’s direction must be congratulated, as he has been able to take what could be considered a very plainly confusing play, and has transformed it into a hilariously silly, slapstick heavy production, that doesn’t lose any of its pertinence by playing up the farcical nature. With many fourth wall breaking meta-theatrical gags and references to current events and pop culture, this helped the show be accessible to a local and modern audience. Some of these inspired choices, such as the musical interlude to begin Act 2, and Matt Harris’ sound design, were hilariously self-referential, which ticked all the boxes of good meta-theatrics.

Ridgway’s comment on the set design in the program notes intelligently describes his reasoning behind the simplicity of the dingy police station. By having a space that could be corruptible, it gave an edge to create ordered chaos and anarchy within the walls, which would once more, build on this satirical conceit. Each character’s costume was rather plain, which showed that their individualism juxtaposed Harris’. This level of conceptual thinking and detail toward all elements of a production, is what assures a show’s success, and every detail of this show fits into a clear and concise directorial vision.  

Overall, Three River Theatre’s production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a thoroughly enjoyable night out at the theatre, I highly recommend getting a ticket before you miss out.  

Review By Matt Taylor

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