Dario Fos 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 Fos original writing of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, through literal translations and others opinions, we can begin to decipher Fos 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 Nyes adaptation of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, it was no part of Fos 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 Fos 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 Fos 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 dellarte. 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 audiences 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. Fos play generally involved an absence of the fourth wall and actors would often communicate with the audience. In Fos 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. Fos 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 some cases, prevent the true meaning of it from being conveyed. First and foremost among these issues is the simple fact that, as stated by Brigid Maher in her article entitled The Comic Voice in Translation: Dario Fos Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the translation of literature is a cultural act as well as a linguistic one, which leads to the question, how can a play be made to work in the target culture while still retaining some of those qualities that make it a part of the source culture? .
It is undeniable that different ultures understand and endorse different things, resulting in the conclusion that, an adaptation is the best means to ensure the play remains relevant when the culture of the target audience is changing. Many adapters struggle in finding a means of communicating to a non-Italian audience the information on political events Fo was able to take for granted with his own audiences, and thus many have produced nothing more than a kind of surreal farce. Adapters also encounter difficulties when attempting to accommodate performance traditions as well as accuracy and ensur[ing] that dialogue is speakable as well as faithful to the original.
The key issue in translating the play lies in remaining faithful to the original: a play of massive political impact that lies well and truly in the genre of farce. This aim of the play, to provoke laughter with anger is difficult to replicate, resulting in many translators of the text emphasis[ing] the comedy of the play at the expense of the politics. Simon Nyes adaptation of the play, created for Methuen Drama in 2003, seemingly remains true to the original text, although the translation appears to entail a loss of anarchism in the changing of the context and political references.
This results in the play losing seriousness, to the extent that its potency is diminished. In Michael Billingtons review of Nyes adaptation of the play, he states that he miss[es] the moral anger that should underlie the madcap zaniness and that the play is torn between reverence for the original and the desire to do a radical re-write. In essence, this translation of the play is exactly that; while it appears to remain true to the original, changing the political context to relate more to post 9/11 fears of terrorism results in the actual concept of anarchism being lost, taking the tragedy of the death of an innocent man along with it.
Gavin Richards version of the play, written for Belt and Braces Roadshow Company in 1979, while different to Simon Nyes, still falls short of being a true translation of the original. In the words of Tony Mitchell, Richards adaptation distorted the original text, cutting it extensively and adding speeches and stage business which often went completely against the grain of Fos play. The satire of the play is diminished and it appears to descend into the realms of slapstick comedy to obtain easy laughs.
Brigid Maher elieves that Richards version of the play presents not so much an interpretation of the text, as a significant rewriting which in large part misrepresents the intention of the text. She believes that Richards alterations significantly alter the ideology of the text and that it becomes a play that is simplistically funny and has less of an edge of social and political criticism. Richards appears to miss the point of Fos play, that is to elicit¦ not only laughter, but also indignation and impetus to action, and never¦ atharsis, especially in his conclusion of the play, in which a cathartic feel is undoubtedly interwoven.
Both Nye and Richards elected to alter the name of the madman, Il Matto in Italian, to maniac, and in so doing lost some of the potential meaningfulness of the madmans speeches. Fo originally depicted the madman as cunning, scheming, disrespectful towards authority, quick-witted¦ incisive in his judgements and scornful of official cant and mendacity, as described by Farrell. He is supposed to be the personification of reason and guardian of public morality.
While in Nyes translation the maniac maintains this reason and public morality by asserting that the anarchist was completely innocent; according to Jane OGrady in her review of Nyes play, he [the maniac] doesnt really enjoy himself enough to transport the audience into hilarity, with laughter being one of the primary aims of the original play. Nevertheless, the madman maintains his didactic demeanour and endlessly offers attacks on authorities, such as when he tells the inspector to stop dumping on people.
In Richards play the maniacs speeches and other important dialogues are short and concise, to the extent that major sections appear to be missing. This is evident in the play when the maniacs speeches in Nyes translation tend to extend for pages and involve complex discussions about the politics of the time, including anarchism, to the extent that social class segregation is discussed, in the lines Theres an old saying: The squire sets his dogs on the peasants.
The peasants complain to the king, so the squire kills the dogs and gets off the hook. Richards play completely omits these references, resulting in a play that appears to value slap-stick comedy and easy-laughs above arousing indignation and impetus to action against the utter corruption of the authorities. Furthermore, the language employed by Richards is both vulgar and exceptionally colloquial when compared to Nyes adaptation. This is evident in many lines, such as when the maniac is describing the positives associated with being a judge.
In Richards translation, the maniac says, Take your lathe operator- touch of the shakes, couple of minor accidents, out to grass. Coal miner, bit of silicosis and hes fucked at fifty, whereas in Nyes translation, the same speech reads, Worker on a production lines past it at fifty- trouble keeping up, making the odd slip-up, out you go! Your miners got silicosis by the time hes forty-five- off he trots, sacked, before hes entitled to a pension.
Nyes maniac appears to have greater intelligence than that of Richards, which is evident simply because he brings up the thought of a pension at all; a concept that Richards entirely omits, along with many other such references. Richards version also omits the section in which the maniac transforms himself into a Bishop, condensing the variety of references in the play and thus the play becomes less politicised. According to Tony Mitchell, Richards often reduce[s] the characters to caricatures and uses a highly non-naturalistic, agit-prop form of staging.
Richards reduce[s] the police characters to almost racist Italian stooges and seems to miss the point that in the original, despite being bumbling, incompetent buffoons, they are always capable of maintaining an aggressive, threatening front. Richards ensures that the policemen are reduced to these bumbling fools when he makes them crawl around and bestows them lines such as oggy, oggy, oggy, oi, oi, oi! . Nye also has a tendency to portray the policemen as smiling and largely benign buffoons, and in so doing their underlying sinister nature is lost.
However, Nyes major downfall lies in is his characterisation of the journalist, a character that, in the original has a completely straight part for when laughter is no longer necessary. Nye depicts the journalist as a playful, flirty woman who often participates in the comedy. OGrady describes this as ill-thought out and thus some of the underlying seriousness of the play is lost. Nye strays from the original when he does not attempt to break the fourth wall and no audience participation is encouraged, whereas Richards remains true to the original in frequently breaking the fourth wall.
This is seen in his play when Bertozzo addresses the audience by saying, I ought to warn you that the author of this sick little play, Dario Fo, has the traditional, irrational hatred of the police common to all narrow-minded left-wingers and so I shall, no doubt, be the unwilling butt of endless anti-authoritarian jibes. Nevertheless, it is unclear if this is actually an attempt to remain true to Fo or simply a comedic mechanism to obtain easy laughs, the second of the two more likely due to the nature of the statement and that it is in fact insulting Fo.
Richards play commences with an introduction that describes the background behind the situation, perhaps as an attempt to replicate the background knowledge that audience members would have been in possession of when Fos play was originally performed. However it is Nye that undoubtedly has written a play as close to Fo as any modern adaptation could be. This is evident throughout the play, however is most prominent in his choice of ending. Nye concludes with the death of the maniac, and thus that of another innocent man, and a real judge entering to reopen the enquiry into the death of the anarchist.
Contrarily, in Richards version of the play, he concludes with two alternative endings, one in which the policemen are killed and the other in which the journalist dies. The maniac concludes the play with the line whichever way it goes, you see, youve got to decide, and thus a certain cathartic feel is produced. Dario Fos original intention in writing Accidental Death of an Anarchist was undoubtedly to provoke not only laughter, but also anger; an impetus to action against the utter corruption and lies surrounding the Italian police force of the late 1960s.
His intention, as he has said himself on numerous occasions, was never to provoke catharsis, and it is for this reason that neither Simon Nyes nor Gavin Richards adaptations of the play are particularly successful. Fos discontent with these particular adaptations stemmed from their having transformed the entire message of his play. He believed that the moral anger and potency was missing, the laughs were paramount and that the painful immediacy was lost. As Pissani rightly asserted in Richards own adaptation of the play, it consists mainly of unheard of distortion to the authors meaning.
Nevertheless, this loss of potency in the plays can, to a certain extent, be attributed to the problems associated with translations. It is difficult for a non-Italian audience that has not been exposed to the political events of Italy in the 1960s to comprehend Fos complex referencing. This ensures that alterations must be made by adapters to account for this, and in so doing, much of the original message of the play is lost. Furthermore, in changing the culture of the target audience, expectations and even humour is changed and thus no adaptation of Fos original could ever be a true representation of it.
It is not just these alterations in references that cause adaptations of the play to be unsuccessful in the society of today. It is also the simple fact that many audiences are not as politically active or affected as Fos original audience, and thus a certain complacency is adopted in our culture. This complacency results in the play being not as successful despite updated references, simply because the political events in the play do not resonate as profoundly with a modern audience.