Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Q) The play ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ makes use of farce and burlesque in order to question the accepted version of contemporary history. Discuss. ‘But everything must be done through irony.’1
Dario Fo explores the play between power, truth and knowledge, delving into their relation with violence, through the theatrical devices of farce, burlesque, irony and slapstick comedy. [He once said] you could instead simply say, "To quote Fo..." "he once said " sounds quite informal., “Comedy makes the subversion of the existing state of affairs possible.” It is exactly this that he attempts to do through his plays. In Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Fo employs various theatrical devices to focalize and foreground the ‘truth’ as against the notion of it, widely propagated such that it is naturalized in the consciousness of all. Comedy, farce, irony and such other devices are so crucial to his plays because, he, much like Brecht, wants his audiences to think. These devices, amongst others, enable the audience to take a distanced stance and analyze what they are being presented with. The effect created and/or the thought process triggered by these devices surely stays for longer than an effect created by devices of naturalist or illusionist theatre that are aimed at imitation or mirroring the real. Fo’s grotesque jokes, however, stay with the audience. Since the aim of illusionist and naturalistic theatre is such, the spectator identifies and relates with the character, noticing no difference between the actor and the character, and leaves the theatre feeling but not thinking. Fo, working on the model of Brecht’s alienation effect, makes apparent that which is buried under multiple layers through its feature of jest. This act of thinking enables an exploration of the workings of power that suppresses revolution by offering, an illusion of a solution.
Cairns, “Introduction: Accidental Death of an Anarchist”, Worldview Publications, 2011
“Madman: … People thought: 'The rot's there, so let it float to the surface...' We're swimming about in it – even swallowing some of it – but nobody comes round telling us that everything's fine and dandy, and that's what counts! ... … Spot on! Manure! Scandal is the fertilizer of social democracy!”
This is to say that people were happy and content with the illusion of efforts being made in the direction of the attainment of justice and the maintenance of freedom. They were happy to see that authorities were there to inform them about what was not ‘fine and dandy.’ Scandals are created by the state to maintain power and strength, as they give the state an opportunity to show their efficiency, look officious and put the blame on someone. The last is the most important because that is what the public, he says, cares about – not being told that everything is ‘fine’. The state, however, as Fo points out following from Gramsci’s theory, is not the centre of power but only the mediator of it. Fo places the power with the middle class, the ideology of which, he believes, pervades the consciousness of all, alarmingly - that of the working class as well. Thus, to deconstruct the notions of truth thus constructed and to undo the ideological indoctrination thus carried out, Fo introduces his form of theatre that engages one in thought, realization and discussion. The techniques of comedy, farce and burlesque employed by Fo include ‘didactic introductions & interventions, ostensibly spontaneous byplay with the audience, grotesque exaggeration of slapstick conventions, blocking patterns in which a background figure (usually the fool) “upstages” a power figure, corporeal distortions (or “disarticulations” of the actor’s body), and conscious fragmentation of character and script alike.’2 The first and most important...
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