Play by Dario Fo
, written in 1970
, following the death of Giuseppe Pinelli
. Pinelli was a suspected anarchist
, and whilst being questioned, allegedly confessed to the bombing for which he was being held, and then, racked with guilt, threw himself from the window of the office in which he was being questioned. The judge at the inquest, though, did not return a verdict of suicide, but instead said that the death was 'accidental'. The police who carried out the questioning were investigated.
Whilst all this was going on, the general public knew very few details about it - not unsurprisingly. Fo wrote a play about a maniac, a lunatic, finding his way into the police headquarters and posing as the judge who has come to reopen the investigation and expose the inconsistencies in the police's version of events (in reality, there were many inconsistencies. The police even changed the time that the jump was supposed to happen). By the end of the play the lunatic has managed to confuse the police horrendously: they have contradicted each other, argued and fought, and admitted that the anarchist did not throw himself from the window. He was pushed (so that the police could claim what they liked in his confession). Every day, as the investigation unfolded, Fo would add more to the play - making it a way of getting information to the public. He described it as throw-away theatre. His thoughts about the inquest, and the police in general, are obvious enough.
Fo has a fine eye for the mot juste, too, and, as well as there being some excellent farcical moments during the play, there are some great ideas well expressed: 'The reason we all walk with our heads held high is that we're up to our necks in the shit'. And so on.
The play has been translated and adapted many times. One of the best, in my opinion, and certainly one of the most successful, is Gavin Richards' reworking. (Richards was a member of the 'Belt and Braces' theatre company, went on to star in a British Gas commercial (you know the one, about returning home and thinking you can smell gas? 'Don't turn on the light switch!'), turned up in 'Allo 'Allo as Captain Bertorelli (the one who shouted 'Heil Mussolini'), and now stars as a major character in Eastenders. I'm tempted to say 'how the mighty are fallen' but, to be honest, he's still a great actor even in the soap.)
Richards makes the maniac sane, and only pretending to be mad. When he has got the police to admit to throwing the anarchist from the window and recorded it on tape, he handcuffs all of them to the window, sets a bomb in the office, and is about to make his escape to publish as many copies of the tapes as he can when Feletti, a newspaper reporter ('Why is there only one woman's part in this play? I feel marooned!') stops him by claiming that he has become as bad as the police. The maniac leaves her with an interesting problem. He throws her the keys to the handcuffs - she can either run, and become an extremist, or let the police go and become an accomplice. By doing this, Richards turns the play from a piece of throw-away theatre to a piece of highly charged polemic. And he shows us both choices too. First Feletti leaves, and the police die. In the second version, Feletti lets the policemen go. They handcuff her to the window instead ('She knows too much!'), and she dies. 'Oh Dio!' says the maniac. 'You see? Whatever happens, you have to decide.'
The play is, of course, superb. Fo's version is an interesting and watchable piece of theatre, although its reason for being has gone: theatre that gives information to the public doesn't have a purpose when the need for the dissemination of the information goes. Richards' adaptation is excellent - funny, contentious and politically challenging. Famously Fo is said to have hated it. In truth, Fo didn't understand the English and was concerned that, as far as he could see, the policemen were being portrayed as buffoons. The National Theatre's recent adaptation (1992, I think - Alan Cumming took the lead) was a rather dismal and undefined affair in comparison. Channel Four filmed Richards's Belt and Braces production. If you get the chance to watch it, it is highly recommended.