Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Accidental Death of an Anarchist - Carlisle Green Room Club - March 2015

Accidental Death of an Anarchist at West Walls Theatre
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by Stewart Grant

Being fortunate enough to see two great shows on the run is a very rare and special thing indeed. For an amateur club or society to be able to maintain the energy, enthusiasm and goodwill from one production to the next which can be anything from six weeks to six months later requires a very dedicated team, a strong sense of vision and, I'd imagine, a certain level of ambition.

While I don't doubt these qualities were all present in spades, I can't say I was in any way surprised when the Green Room's second show of the year, tasked with the unenviable job of trying to follow the feast of delight that was The Importance of Being Earnest, failed to hit the mark.

This I must stress is in no part due to a lack of effort from the cast. I have no doubt that the vague sense of boredom that radiated from the principle policemen involved in attempting to cover up the suspicious death of an anarchist in their custody was a deliberate character trait and not simply generated from being unfortunate enough to be burdened with such thankless parts in a thoroughly tedious script.

Despite spedning most of the play in their company, Author Dario Fo makes little to no effort to flesh out these characters. You can easily imagine the only note that featured in their biographies was the single word 'Corrupt'; Not much for the poor Seb Coombe, Nigel Banks, Jason Munn or Paul Hayton to go on. Cursed with such one dimensional characters, there was little else to do for the foursome but shout when shouting seemed appropriate and look either concerned or conniving for the remainder. A waste of talent that have proven themselves of far better things elsewhere.

Perhaps the principle reason for such uninspired supporting characters is that Anarchist is largely a one man show. 'The Maniac' is the driving force behind everything that happens. A force of nature that, for his own amusement, takes control and alters everything and everyone around him. A character that grabs you kicking and screaming by the lapels from his first moment on stage and doesn't let go until the curtains close, never for a moment allowing you a moment to question what on earth is going on, happy to break the fourth wall all the way.

At least, that's how it was intended. Unfortunately, Andrew Keogh falls somewhere short of this in his performance. Again, it's not due to a lack of enthusiasm. From the moment he appears he's brimming with energy and he manages to maintain the level throughout which, rarely leaving the stage, cannot have been easy. But the Maniac has more to him than that wide eyed energetic mania. For all he comes across as an insane lunatic, the character jumps at every opportunity to take control of every satiation he finds himself in, usually via means of a disguise. This element of cunning and control was completely absent from Keogh's performance. The perceived change of character was rarely matched with much of a change of vocal tone or personality. Had the costume not changed on every occasion you'd have almost no way of telling he was supposedly impersonating someone else. The sum effect of this lack of variety was that, rather than keeping the audience on their toes, the performance soon became boring and, towards the end, almost wearisome.  A tremendous shame when it was abundantly clear how much energy was being expended.

The production was not entirely without merit however, thanks to some ingenious fourth wall breaking moments - the cast singing an Italian ditty playing ukuleles while the words appeared on a screen sing-along style was a particular highlight, as was the brilliantly realised destruction scene when the bomb explodes in the second half. Rarely has a Green Room production used technology to such great effect.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist was unlikely to ever become one of my favourite plays, and the Green Room production did little to change my opinion. I can only praise the cast for trying their hardest with largely thankless material but in this case no amount of enthusiasm could disguise that anarchy doesn't equal entertainment.

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