Protest Song, theatre review: 'Rhys Ifans is utterly convincing as an Occupy protester'

4.00

The Shed, National Theatre, London

Tim Price, whose play, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, caused a stir last year  has got a bit political again with a one-man play based on the Occupy movement that grew outside Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the autumn and winter of 2011-12.

But it’s as much about the politics of Occupy as the issue of homelessness in general. Rhys Ifans, best known as Hugh Grant’s useless flatmate in Notting Hill, is utterly convincing as Danny, a rough sleeper who gets caught up in Occupy, and I don’t just mean he looks a bit tatty — the details of his performance feel genuine; his bag full of Tennent’s lager cans, a mobile wrapped in two plastic bags, a Big Issue seller’s jacket.

He smells of booze, his long fingers shake when he can’t articulate how he feels and, most importantly he wavers between affable joker and scary drunk. When he asks the audience, “Would you touch a rough sleeper?” some shrink away.

His vulnerability is veiled under layer upon layer of mental health issues, self-loathing and alcoholism. Our sympathy is never lost, but equally, he drives home his plight without appearing maudlin, and the audience are kept constantly on their toes. 

As he talks about the various characters who become his surrogate family in Occupy, he becomes politicised. He puts on a Santa hat and leads us on an alternative Christmas song, joyfully replacing the line, “Five gold rings” with “Boris is a c**t”, taking a balletic bow. 

I left feeling riled up but a bit impotent — not dissimilar to Danny — given hope by a movement that vanished from view in Winter last year.

Protest Song, National Theatre Shed, December 16-January 11, 020 7452 3244, nationaltheatre.org.uk

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