Brian Haw: the West End show

First came the demonstration, then it was the exhibition, now it's...
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The Independent Culture

In June 2001, a former carpenter from Kent pitched a tent in Parliament Square to stage a one-man protest against a New Labour government he felt was increasingly impervious to public opinion.

Nearly seven years on, Brian Haw is still camped outside the Commons. His anti-war campaign has not only gripped the nation but has made him the subject of Mark Wallinger's Turner Prize-winning installation, State Britain, inspired Banksy to donate a "graffiti art" protest banner and won Channel 4's "political figure of the year" award.

Now, in the latest dramatisation of his epic struggle against the Government's stance on the Iraq war and the erosion of civil liberties, comes Brian Haw, the West End play.

The State We're In, starring Samuel West and Raquel Cassidy, is based on Mr Haw's political struggle and the sacrifices he has had to make in his personal life. It opens today at London's Trafalgar Studios as a one-off rehearsed reading. It is hoped that it will earn a longer run on a West End stage later this year.

Mr Haw, the son of a Second World War soldier, has a wife and seven children with whom he has not lived for several years.

He began his protest over the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq and came to personify the anti-war movement after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, building up a protest encampment of 600 banners, photographs, flags and messages.

On 23 May 2006, following the passing by Parliament of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act banning unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, most of the protest display was removed. Wallinger, however, immortalised it in his detailed replication of the encampment, which was placed in Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries last year and won the Turner Prize.

Zia Trench, who wrote the play, said it was based around the curious and "iconic" figure of Mr Haw. "There is a messianic illusion around him; there is something so Jesus-like about him," she said. "He has taken on our fight but what has this cost him? The play looks at the man behind the protest and how battles fought for liberty can cost a man his wife, home and sanity."

She first came across Mr Haw when she interviewed him alongside the politician Tony Benn, while working as a journalist. "I'm not saying it's his life story but it is exploring the idea of someone who is obsessed with a cause on which he can't back down. In the play, his wife comes to visit him but leaves him after six years because she can't handle it, which is of course, fictionalised. At first, she is very proud that her man is going out to stop the war but by the end she feels she is growing old without her husband," said Ms Trench.

Poppy Burton-Morgan, who directed the play, said Samuel West had been keen to dramatise Mr Haw's struggle and the protester's "right to speak out".

Mr Haw, who will speak at the Oxford University Student Union on 7 February, said yesterday: "I came as an individual but things have moved on. I have been joined by other people living in the same circumstance. What it amounts to is the power of one. What I'm showing is that the individual can make a difference."