Dario Fo’s original play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist has been adapted and transformed an innumerable number of times, to greater or lesser success. Most often, adaptations that involve a modernisation or complete transformation of the play can be seen as less successful as they tend to alter the original so much that the original message and intention of the play is lost. However, often when adapting the play to a modern context, a complete transformation is required to satisfy the requirements of a vastly different audience.
Whilst it is difficult for a non-Italian speaker to fully comprehend the message, style and purpose of Fo’s original writing of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, through literal translations and other’s opinions, we can begin to decipher Fo’s original intention in writing such a politically active text. Written in 1970 in response to the “accidental” death of Pino Pinelli, an anarchic railway worker, in the play Fo writes about real life events in a political framework. His central message undoubtedly revolves around his desire to incite a will to act in his audience. As asserted by Joseph Farrel in his introduction to Nye’s adaptation of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, “it was no part of Fo’s scheme to be unduly subtle in his approach or intentions” and, as Fo himself has said, his aim was to provoke “laughter with anger”.
The central message of Fo’s play is indisputably one of political origins, which highlights the utter corruption of the society in which it is based. However, Fo achieves this aim through the mechanism of farce, for, as according to Joseph Farrel, “Farce seemed to him [Dario Fo] the most effective means of provoking thought”. It is for just this reason that Fo disguised such a serious, “hard-hitting” message in the guise of farce, for “farce was a device which prevented ‘catharsis’”, “one of the worst dangers”. Fo believes that laughter “serve[s] a purpose, to grab the attention of the audience”. Nevertheless, Fo does not merely want to “make them [his audience] laugh, but he also wants them to feel indignant about the cover-ups and miscarriages of justice perpetrated by the Italian police force”. In so doing, the central message of the play challenges the authorities while demonstrating that comedy can be at the heart of truth.
The style of Fo’s original play rightly fits under the “noble and modern” genre of farce, as described by Dario Fo himself. Fo models his characters after the medieval giullare and harlequin from Commedia dell’arte. When the play was originally performed, it was modified on a day-by-day basis, as according to the events uncovered during the trial of Pinelli. Thus, the play also included improvisation and was subject to change according to the audience’s reactions. Furthermore, the play usually contained a “third act” that involved a debate with the audience in which Fo would discuss the affair and encourage audience participation. Fo’s play generally involved an absence of the “fourth wall” and actors would often communicate with the audience.
In Fo’s original, the madman is the character that, according to Farrell, “destroys all conventions” and “does not merely cavort and make fun of the baubles the king wears around his neck, but also of his right to wear a crown at all”. The madman “exists in a dimension of his own”, however is also the “personification of reason and public morality”. His primary purpose is to expose the utter corruption and, to a certain extent insanity, of the police force. It is ironic that this task is awarded to a madman. While Fo depicts the policemen as “smiling and largely benign” buffoons, he ensures that their “sinister” nature and malicious tendencies are not lost. Fo’s original gives the journalist “a completely straight part”, for, as according to Fo, “there comes a point when laughter is no longer necessary”.
When translating the play, numerous issues arise that, in...