12:00 - 14 February 2005

Welcome to a new company devoted to performing challenging drama. This play is based on true events in politically volatile Italy in the late 1960s and 1970s. Following the terrorist bombing of a bank (just one attack out of nearly 200 that year), an arrested anarchist allegedly leapt to his death from a fourth-floor window (avoiding seven policemen!) to escape interrogation. The Maniac in writer/actor Dario Fo's farce infiltrates the police station in various guises to expose police culpability and ridicule corruption.

Fo accepted that his text would have to be altered for subsequent performances, especially abroad. But he objected to the 'grotesque buffoonery' of the original British production (though it found popular success and ran for two years), and considered the National Theatre's version 'too solemn and didactic'. He wanted his incisive parody of a nasty political crime to be provocative and rebellious. A piece, therefore, capable of varied interpretations. Director Peter Dann's version incorporates Brechtian alienation effects, anachronistic references and a touch of adlibbing. Some expletives too, which was never Fo's style.

The first half runs at a furious pace, and provides maximum humour. It threatens to unravel a bit in the second half, but this is partly due to the way the play is written, and the need to ram home its message. We get two endings - we decide which to accept.

The performances are exemplary. As the Maniac, the role Fo himself created, Clive Lovatt whips the action along, hilariously ensnaring the police officers played by Phil Rayner, Nic Early and Neil Oxley, with Peter Dann combining the roles of the luckless constables. Ali Goodworth is the viperish journalist embroiled in the farrago. A riot of fun, but it couldn't happen here. Could it?