“I’m not protesting”
Tim Price has become a writer to watch with a number of interesting recent works (For Once, Salt Root and Roe, and The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning amongst others) and now he graduates to the National Theatre with this monologue by Rhys Ifans taking up residence in (and also outside) the giant red box of The Shed. In Protest Song, Ifans is Danny, a man whose addictions have led to the collapse of his marriage and family life and resulted in him ending up on the streets, a rough sleeper on the steps of St Pauls.
So when Occupy takes over his abode and turn it into the centrepiece of their protest movement, he is naturally disgruntled, believing them to be taking the piss (quite literally in one scene). But the opportunities that it presents – for socialisation, for sustenance, for service – seduces him into thinking change may be afoot, but he fails to take into account society’s ingrained attitudes towards the homeless. It is a genuinely thought-provoking piece of theatre that manages that oh-so-rare thing of actually challenging one’s own perceptions, seeing the inevitable beggars on the way home in a new light.
Ifans is remarkably intense in the role, his ragged form stalking the stage and the audience with a confrontational energy, often addressing us directly with his rage, his resentment, his regret at the way life has turned out. And the intervention of Occupy offers a neat slant to his perspective, not only in the insight he gives us into the lives of the homeless but in the bracingly blunt appraisal of the protesters who are laid exposed before us by this insider view. It is uncomfortable but important viewing, I just wish the crowd-pleasing Boris-bashing wasn’t there as it undercuts the gravity somewhat.