By John Sinha
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Protest Song: a play that gives a remarkable account of the Occupy movement

This article is over 10 years, 7 months old
Issue 2384
Rhys Ifans as Danny

Rhys Ifans as Danny (Pic: Kwame Lestrade)

Protest Song is an account of the Occupy movement as seen through the eyes of one of the long-term homeless residents of St. Paul’s cathedral in London.

It takes the form of a monologue from Danny, powerfully played by Rhys Ifans and loosely based on the homeless residents who became an active part of the camp. Through this unlikely hero we are given an insight into this remarkable political moment.

At first Danny is resentful when hundreds of tents suddenly appear in the churchyard, and dismissive of the occupiers’ political pretensions.

Danny’s vulnerability and his struggle with alcoholism, mirror the difficulties of the protest camp itself. His pent-up rage is ready to burst open at any moment, but is tempered by a sardonic wit typical of many of those who have to survive on the streets.

This sense of unease, subdued but always just below the surface, was a real feature of the camp—revealing in its turn the gulf between the perspectives of the homeless residents and the “activists” .

But as the play progresses we are able to see the development of Danny’s political consciousness. It is in the kitchen that he is able to find a place to integrate himself into the life of the camp by taking on one of the main practical tasks required.

He begins to function as one of the “activists” participating in the General Assemblies where he declares, “This is a protest not a camp”.

The playwright, Tim Price, collaborated with many former occupiers in developing the script and the result is a play which captures some of the essence and atmosphere of Occupy.

It doesn’t shy away from the contradictions inherent in such a situation, and it poses questions about the prefigurative politics which often flow from such moments

Occupy might not have saved the 99 percent from the 1 percent. But it was certainly a transformation for many who took part. As Danny concluded, “Occupy fucked up a lot of people—because it gave us hope.”

Protest Song, written by Tim Price. Until 11 January, The Shed, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX

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