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Dario Fo’s Political Theatre

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Dario Fo’s Political Theatre Dario Fo’s plays were written in Italy during the 60’s and 70’s. During this time there was widespread dissatisfaction throughout Italy towards the government and various factions within the country , the nation seethed with discontent.

Dario Fo was born in 1926 in the Italian state of Lombardy. During the fifties , Fo , along with his wife Franca Rame , had a succesful career as an actor , director and writer of comedies in conventional theatre. During the sixties , they abondened conventional theatre and chose the working classes as the target audience for their new, left wing plays. Fo’s new productions were based upon the Commedia dell’arte of renaissance times. His main influence is the old guillari, wandering performers who would perform for the masses using their own style of satire , a ambiguous disrespect for the authorities (particularly the church).

Fo , a dissatisfied citizen of Italy , used theatre to attack and ridicule Italy’s governing system.

To convey his socio-political messages to the masses , Fo incorporated elements into his theatrical productions assist in his conveyance.

Fo’s plays are more flexible than traditional productions , were written to be alterable for different audiences and allowed for greater audience participation.

Fo’s plays contained messages , and to help convey them , Fo would allow the audience to become more involved and take on the message of the play more personally.

For example – In Accidental Death of an Anarchist ” Superintendent : I don’t mind telling you that we’ve got a few planted in the audience tonight, in the normal way – would you like to see them ? ” He claps . Voices from various points in the theatre.

Voices : Yes sir ! what are your orders ? Maniac : ( to audience ) Don’t worry , they’e only actors. The real ones are sitting tight and keeping out of sight. ” This was meant to show the audience of police infiltrators in certain aspects of society. By interacting with the audience in this fashion , Fo has shown them them that police observance and interaction can very well affect them. By aiming a joke directly at the audience , he had more effectively made them think of their situations more closely.

Another element Fo used in his productions is Satire. Satire allowed Fo to firstly attract an audience , in his case he targeted the lesser educated working classes , who would in general appreciate a comedy rather than a intellectual debate on the working class situation ( This is not meant to imply that the target audience was stupid ). And secondly , to engage the audience in a language they would appreciate and more importantly that would encourage the audience to reflect upon the social situations Fo had emphasised.

One of the main focus’ that Fo uses satire on to make light of is the police. With the way Fo portrayed the police in his productions , it can safely concluded that Fo held contempt towards the police. In both the productions Can’t Pay , Won’t Pay and Accidental Death of an Anarchist , the police are portrayed as evil , incompetent and a tool of oppresion against the working class.

e.g In Accidental Death of an Anarchist , the story revolves around the suspicious nature of a Anarchist’s death while in police custody. The facts hidden by false reports and twisted words on the account of the police. But a madman posing as a judge pretends to reopen the case and also plays with words to discount the official story.

This was based on a true story , of a anarchist in Italy accused of terroism , taken by the police and supposedly committed suicide. The reports on this were ambiguous and sometimes contradictory. When Fo wrote Accidental Death of an Anarchist , he placed in it a “mad” character. The mad character quite ironically becomes the source of reason and sanity amongst the irrational police. The maniac then begins to twist words against the police favor, pointing out contradictions etc… .


The police in Can’t pay, Won’t pay were part part of the “red brigade”, responsible for apprehending communists. One of the police seemed to be trying to fool people nto admitting their political preferences.

This ties to the point made earlier that Fo was trying to persuade his audiences that the police were oppressing the working class.

Farce is another theatrical style Fo uses in his productions. Both Can’t pay , Won’t pay and Accidental Death of an Anarchist are basically stories inspired by true events and situations with added ludicrousy so that the situations are now made humorous. But the stories and events Fo uses along with farce would have made the productions a sort of black comedy to his target audience during the time. He wanted the audience to laugh at the situations but also feel the tragedy of them.

The Characters and events in Fo’s plays tell an audience about how theatre can be used as a plitical weapon in many ways …

Fo’s plays were very political , were designed for greater audience participation and were written with less than ambiguous attacks on Italy’s political system.

Fo’s plays were written for the common working class , for this is where in the eyes of the left wing , the power lay. In Can’t pay, Won’t pay, the theme is that of civil disobedience. The characters with starry eyed optimism and ideals soon subside to the conclusion that action must be taken to achieve results. Fo uses this to paralell Italian society at the time. The message can be interpreted as a wake up call for those who follow a policy of inaction and obedience to challenge authority.

Fo’s plays provided a seperate opinion to that of the of the authorities, and the messages provided a way to balance out official opinion to that of public opinion , thereby encouraging people to challenge official opinion with the foothold of another ( public ).

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