Accidental Death of an Anarchist

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Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Cover of a 2004 Italian edition of Morte accidentale di un anarchico
Written by Dario Fo
  • Maniac
  • Inspector Bertozzo
  • Inspector Pissani
  • The Superintendent
  • Maria Feletti
Date premiered 5 December 1970
Place premiered Capannone di Via Colletta, Milan
Original language Italian
Subject Police corruption; the death of Italian anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli
Genre Political farce
Setting Central Police Headquarters, Milan

Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Italian title: Morte accidentale di un anarchico) is the most internationally recognized play by Dario Fo, recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature. Considered a classic of twentieth-century theater, it has been performed across the world in more than 40 countries, including Argentina, Chile, the United Kingdom, India, Romania, South Africa, South Korea and Iran.[1]


The play is a farce based on the real-life events surrounding Italian railwayman and anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell – or was thrown – to his death from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station in 1969. Pinelli was accused of bombing a bank (the Piazza Fontana bombing) but was cleared of the charge. The events of the play, however, are fictional.


The play opens with Inspector Bertozzo interrogating a clever and quick-witted fraudster, simply known as The Maniac; in Bertozzo's office on the third floor of the police headquarters in Milan. The Maniac constantly outsmarts the dim-witted Bertozzo and, when Bertozzo leaves the room, intercepts a phone call from Inspector Pissani. Pissani reveals to the Maniac that a judge is due at the police station to investigate the interrogation and "accidental" death of the anarchist, whilst pretending to be a colleague of Bertozzo's and telling Pissani that Bertozzo is "blowing a raspberry" at him. The Maniac decides to impersonate the judge, Marco Malipiero, and to humiliate the policemen responsible for the "accidental" death. After Bertozzo reenters his office, the Maniac is forced out of the office, taking Bertozzo's coat and hat to use in his disguise. Bertozzo chases him, running into Pissani, who punches him in retaliation for "blowing a raspberry" at him.

The Maniac, now impersonating Malipiero, finds Pissani and his lackey, the Constable. Telling them them that he is Malipiero, the Maniac asks for the Superintendent, who was involved with the interrogation with Pissani and the Constable. The four enter the office where the interrogation took place. The Maniac orders the three policemen to re-enact the events of the interrogation; in turn fabricating many of the events, such as changing beating the anarchist to making jokes with him, and even breaking out in song. When the investigation reaches the matter of the fall, the Constable reveals he grabbed the anarchist's shoe, in an attempt to stop him from falling. However, the Maniac notes that witnesses who saw the anarchists reported that the anarchist had both shoes on. When Pissani surmises that the anarchist was wearing a galosh, the Superintendent breaks into a rage, making Pissani accidentally reveal that the Superintendent pushed the anarchist out of the window. The two policemen then realises that the Maniac was listening. The phone in the office suddenly rings, which Pissani answers. He tells them that it is a journalist called Maria Feletti, who the Superintendent agreed to meet to clear rumors about the interrogation.

As the presence of Malipiero would endanger them, the policemen tell the Maniac to leave for the time being. Instead, the Maniac intends to disguise himself as a forensic expert from Rome, Captain Piccini. The Maniac leaves the office. Feletti nearly exposes the three policemen, until the Maniac reenters, dressed as an extravagantly-dressed amputee. The Maniac manages to concoct a story on how the anarchist died: one of the impatient policemen hit the anarchist in the neck, an ambulance being called; the anarchist then being led to the window for fresh air, and pushed accidentally out of the window due to uncoordinated balance between the two policemen leading him to the window.

Bertozzo suddenly enters, delivering a replica of a bomb from another anarchist attack. Bertozzo partially recognises the Maniac, as he knows Captain Piccini, but is dissuaded by Pissani and the Superintendent. Feletti begins to pick out the inconsistencies in the policemen's stories, and showing that anarchists in Milan are mainly fascists, not actual revolutionaries. Bertozzo realises that "Piccini" is the Maniac, after seeing his coat and hat on a stand. Bertozzo, holding the policemen at gunpoint, orders Feletti to cuff the three policemen; getting the Maniac to show them his medical records, exposing him as a fraud. The Maniac reveals a tape recorder, which he used to record Pissani and the Superintendent's tirade, exposing their crime. The Maniac strips off his disguise, making him recognizable to Feletti, who identifies him as Paulo Davidovitch Gandolpho, the "Prose Pimpernel of the Permanent Revolution" and "notorious sports editor of Lotta Continua". Revealing that the bomb replica can in fact work, setting it off on a timer, the Maniac has Bertozzo join his fellow policemen. Feletti attempts to stop the Maniac, citing the Maniac as an "extremist" and "fanatic". The Maniac, instead of killing her, offers her an ultimatum: save the four corrupt policemen, acquitting them and the Maniac will be put behind bars; or leave them to die for their crime and unwittingly join the extremist movement as an accomplice. The Maniac then leaves to spread the recording.

The Maniac then addresses the audience, showing what the scenario entails. When Feletti leaves them, the four policemen die in the resulting explosion. However, the Maniac then offers the second result: sticking to the rule of law, Feletti releases them, but is chained to the window by the policemen when they realize that Feletti knows what they did. The Maniac then leaves the audience to decide which ending they prefer.


A sequel, Pum pum! Chi è? La polizia! (Knock Knock! Who's There? The Police!), followed, which the semiotician Umberto Eco commented favourably on in a weekly column in L'Espresso.[2]

Blanco death[edit]

An actor Mark Blanco, who was cast in the lead role for Accidental Death of an Anarchist at a London fringe theatre, died in unexplained circumstances himself in December 2006 shortly before the production was about to open. Blanco fell to the ground from a balcony in Whitechapel, East London. His family said: "We absolutely do not believe that Mark committed suicide, or that his death was a simple accident." They continue to press for information on Blanco's last hours at the party from those who were present, including society junkie Paul Roundhill and former Libertines singer Pete Doherty.[3]

List of major productions[edit]

A 2009 production of the play at The Doon School in India
  • Accidental Death of an Anarchist was first staged by Dario Fo and theater group Collettivo Teatrale La Comune on 5 December 1970 in Varese, Italy. This production toured Italy playing to audiences totalling more than a million.
  • An English translation was published by Suzanne Cowan in Theater Magazine in 1979, and led to subsequent productions in Minneapolis in 1982.
  • In 1980, the play was staged in Britain at the Wyndham's Theatre in London. It had a highly successful run in the heart of London's theatreland, from 5 March 1980 to 24 October 1981. The production was nominated for a highly prestigious Laurence Olivier Award.
  • A British television adaptation, which mixed the original Italian setting with contemporary references to Thatcher's Britain aired on Channel 4 on 23 December 1985.[4] Starring Gavin Richards as The Maniac, directed by Alan Horrox and Gavin Richards.
  • On 9 February 1984, a stage adaptation by Richard Nelson, directed by Doug Wager, opening at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.. The show made it to Broadway starring Jonathan Pryce and Patti LuPone in 1984, but closed after 20 performances and 15 previews.
  • In January 1987, Accidental Death of an Anarchist was adapted for a Sinhala version. The play was performed in Sri Lanka, adapted and directed by Vijitha Gunaratne for the Movement for Releasing Political Prisoners. Entitled Saakki, the production starring Gamini Hatthotuwegama as the Maniac.
  • In 1992, an adaptation of the play by Jeremy Hardy was broadcast on BBC Radio. It starred Adrian Edmondson as the Maniac and Jennifer Saunders as Feletti, along with Jill Gascoine, John Forgeham, Stephen Frost and Mark Steel as police officers.
  • In May, 1997, the play was performed in India, by director Arvind Gaur for Asmita Theatre, Delhi. A Hindi adaptation was entitled Operation Three Star by Amitabh Srivastava of the National School of Drama, starring Piyush Mishra as the Maniac.[5]
  • In 1998, a Chinese language adaptation was brought to Beijing by China's leading stage director, Meng Jinghui.[6]
  • In 2001, the play was performed by the Magic Lantern theatre group, Chennai, India, directed by Rajiv Krishnan/Pashupathi. The play was culturally adapted for India but performed in English, starring Hans Kaushik as the Maniac, Paul Mathew as the Police Commissioner, Asim Sharma as the Superintendent, and Sriya Chari as the Journalist.
  • In 2003, a new translation by Simon Nye was performed at the Donmar Warehouse theatre, London, starring Rhys Ifans and directed by Robert Delamere.[7]
  • In 2005, a new version preserving the original Italian setting was directed by Luca Giberti at the Oxford Playhouse theatre, Oxford, UK, with Brian Stewart playing the Maniac.[8][9]
  • In 2007, a newly formed theatre group from Cornwall, UK, Dave's House Theatre Company performed an original script version showing for 3 days at the Burrell Theatre in Cornwall. The success of the first run led to the group doing a tour of the performance in January 2008 at Truro College, St Austell Arts Centre and Acorn Theatre, Penzance.[10][11]
  • In 2008, the play was adapted in Urdu and performed by Dramaline, the dramatic society of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The five-day production took place at the Al-Hamra Hall in Lahore and attracted a great audience. The play was entitled Marta Kya Na Karta.
  • The play was performed in a new English translation and contemporary updating in the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, by the Northern Broadsides company, in November 2008.
  • Based in Pune, India, Swatantra Theatre's adaptation of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist "delves into the murky side of the police force".[12]
  • In 2009, the Sydney Theatre Company performed the play.[13]
  • In 2011 the play in English was performed at HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) with the bombing changed from a bank to a train station in Zimbabwe, and other parts modified slightly to suit Zimbabwean audiences.
  • In 2012, it was performed as a rock musical in Romania by Deva Art Theatre.
  • In 2012, Fullhouse Productions performed the play at The Meteor in Hamilton, New Zealand.
  • In 2014, LUTheatre performed the production at The ARC in Leicester, England, using the Simon Nye translation. After a successful three night run the producers held talks about making a student film style version of the play, with a wish to adapt the script to further suit film.
  • In 2014, it was performed in Berkeley, California at the Berkeley Rep.
  • In 2007 it was Adapted into Kashmiri Language as "Hath-e-Handol" by Manzoor Ahmad Mir and was also directed by him at Srinagar Kashmir at Tagore Hall Srinagar Kashmir India.
  • In 2009, Mashaal Theater Group staged a Hindi adaptation with the title Bechara Maara Gaya.[14] The adapted play was made into a single shot film in 2013.[15]


Ed Emery translated an authorised English-language version.[16]

Further reading[edit]

  • Mitchell, Tony (1999), Dario Fo: People's Court Jester (Updated and Expanded), London: Methuen, ISBN 0-413-73320-3. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mitchell 1999, p. 101
  2. ^ Mitchell 1999, pp. 121–122
  3. ^ Barkham, Patrick (9 December 2006). "Family adamant 'Dario Fo death' was not accidental". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2006. 
  4. ^ IMDB entry for 1983 broadcast
  5. ^ Kazmi, Nikhat. "Dario Fo's adaptation operation three star". The Times of India. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ O'Grady, Jane. "Accidental Death of an Anarchist". Online Review London. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  8. ^ Review on DailyInfo
  9. ^ Review on BBC website
  10. ^ Dave's House Theatre Company
  11. ^ Review on Dance and Theatre Cornwall Archived January 16, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› 
  12. ^ "Nothing accidental about it". Pune Mirror. 16 May 2009. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  13. ^ "Accidental Death Of An Anarchist". Sydney Morning Herald. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  14. ^ Bechara Maara Gaya. 23 May 2009. 
  15. ^ "Bechara Maara Gaya A Political Parody". 13 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Fo, Dario. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, trans. Ed Emery, in Dario Fo: Plays One, Methuen Books, London, 1988.

External links[edit]