Dario Fo (24 March 1926 – 13 October 2016) was an Italian actor–playwright, comedian, singer, theatre director, stage designer, songwriter, painter, political campaigner for the Italian left-wing and the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature. In his time he was “arguably the most widely performed contemporary playwright in world theatre”. Much of his dramatic work depends on improvisation and comprises the recovery of “illegitimate” forms of theatre, such as those performed by giullari (medieval strolling players) and, more famously, the ancient Italian style of commedia dell’arte.
His plays have been translated into 30 languages and performed across the world, including in Argentina, Chile, Iran, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka Sweden, the UK and Yugoslavia. His work of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s is peppered with criticisms of assassinations, corruption, organised crime, racism, Roman Catholic theology and war. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he took to lampooning Forza Italia and its leader Silvio Berlusconi, while his targets of the 2010s included the banks amid the European sovereign-debt crisis. Also in the 2010s, he became the main ideologue of the Five Star Movement, the anti-establishment party led by Beppe Grillo, often referred by its members as “the Master”.
Fo’s solo pièce célèbre, titled Mistero Buffo and performed across Europe, Canada and Latin America over a 30-year period, is recognised as one of the most controversial and popular spectacles in postwar European theatre and has been denounced by the Vatican (more precisely, by Cardinal Ugo Poletti, not, strictly speaking, a Vatican official but Cardinal Vicar for the Diocese of Rome) as “the most blasphemous show in the history of television”. The title of the original English translation of Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! (Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!) has passed into the English language. “The play captures something universal in actions and reactions of the working class.”
His receipt of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature marked the “international acknowledgment of Fo as a major figure in twentieth-century world theatre”. The Swedish Academy praised Fo as a writer “who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”. He owned and operated a theatre company.