Making a song and dance
2011 was an extraordinary year and there were many stories and things that happened that gripped me. It was such an extraordinary response to the financial crisis that I felt compelled to write about it.
Do these times lend themselves to dramatisation?
Yes. We’re living in extraordinary times of extremes. Under New Labour, when things seemed to be going well, there was a lot of theatre written about privilege and the trials of the middle classes – wealthy families with mothers who couldn’t stop taking prescription drugs. It said nothing to me about my life. I’m from the valleys, and Thatcherism hangs over my childhood like a dark cloud. I struggled to find theatre that resonated.
Do your plays intend to educate and inform?
I’m wary of saying that. I’m a dramatist, not a documentary maker, and I will bend stories to serve my drama, but as an artist you have a duty to respond to the world. Theatre’s job is to help people understand the world. These are stories I wanted to – had to – tell.
How did you settle on Danny, the lead character?
I’d met quite a few occupiers; I’d gone to St Paul’s a few times when the camp was there, as a kind of day visitor. There was one character there, one occupier, who had started life as a rough sleeper on the steps of St Paul’s – and then the camp arrived. It became a home for a lot of vulnerable people, and when I heard that story I felt that was a nice way of framing the Occupy journey.
Did you write the part with Rhys Ifans in mind?
Yes, I did. It was quite unusual – I’ve never done that before. I had a meeting about working in the NT’s Shed, and said I wanted to work with an actor who could almost change the temperature of the room with the force of their performance. I mentioned that I’d love to work with Rhys. It all just fell into place. I still can’t quite believe it. It’s very strange when he texts me now – I have to try and keep it cool.
Do any politicians appear in the play?
No, but I think Boris Johnson might be mentioned in passing…
Are you nervous about seeing your work on stage at the National Theatre?
I’m feeling a bit trepidatious about Occupy’s response to it; I want them to like it, but I can’t write with that in mind otherwise it will be a terrible play. There are a lot of mixed feelings – mainly it’s blind fear.
Earlier this year you collaborated with [Super Furry Animals frontman] Gruff Rhys. Could you tempt him to work with you at the NT?
That would be a dream. Rhys and Gruff are old friends, so to be working with Gruff at the start of the year and Rhys at the end of the year is amazing. I’d love to work with Gruff again, because he’s an extraordinary human being. He has a hundred and one stories for a book, an album or a play. Hopefully we can work together again, and perhaps even get Rhys in it.
Protest Song will be performed in The Shed at the National Theatre from 16 December 2013 to 11 January 2014