“I dreamed that Martin Luther King / was standing by my compost bin…”
This one-man show tells how a well-meaning composter from Bristol ended up facing criminal prosecution and a five million pound litigation case in the name of saving the planet. A dramatic lecture interspersed with slam poetry presented by a professional poet and activist, this just over one-hour-long show is a fascinating insight into the life and work of a man who has been at the forefront of the UK direct action movement for over fifteen years.
Danny’s style is upbeat and positive, with his friendly, gangly delivery and assertion that he is primarily motivated by ‘love’ providing the icing on the sarcastic cupcake of his poetry. Eco-folk may recognise themselves in the poem about 'guilt fatigue' (e.g. this kind of "…moral tussle: local, or organic mussels?!") – when we twig that trying to be the perfect ethical consumer might just be reinforcing our powerlessness and either run off to occupy a power station – "reduce your carbon footprint: and use it to kick some ass!" - or just stop reading labels. Judging by the familiar faces in the crowd tonight, and their reactions, this journey won’t be an unfamiliar one to lots of Oxford folk (or indeed, Bristol or London folk). But as we hear, Danny’s just as likely to be lecturing an entire police training centre as to be preaching to the converted – and showing The Force images of force, as used by them, illegally, against legitimate protesters. Brave? Uh-huh. Turn the bravery dial up to 11.
Arrest That Poet is peppered with memorable descriptions of daring stunts, brilliant poetic lines and (mostly) ironic laughs. Whilst a tale of a very personal journey, its lack of direct links between the content of the poems and the real events inspiring them adds a barrier that could do well to be removed. One poem describes a protest arrest scenario from the perspective of a well-meaning middle-class ingénue (or possibly, idiot) who tries politely to believe that the police are there to help him. It’d help the show dramatically if we were told whether or not this had been based on a real scenario and if Danny had been the chap in the van (obviously, if so, replace ‘ingénue’ with ‘horrified poet translating abuse into comedy’). Indeed, the most powerful moments in the show came when Danny stood still and let emotion show through the jolly monkey-boy act. When delivering a poem focusing on the long-term (activist) partner of exposed undercover cop Mark Kennedy (aka Mark ‘Stone’, famous for infiltrating the UK eco-scene for over seven years), we got a glimpse of the darkness to be found in any political movement that uses direct action. When a host of change-seeking Davids take aim at misty-faced, power-wielding Goliaths, it doesn’t always end well; hopes can be dashed and lives damaged. Bitterness, anger and suspicion can creep into places once occupied by optimism and sunshine. Dramatically, such moments could have been made even more compelling by more use of stage lighting, props (two chairs which remained mostly unused) and maybe a sound effect or two (and lighting could have been cunningly employed to signal to the audience that Danny deserved a clap after each poem, too). A Q&A at the end would also have added a lot to the experience (at least one audience memeber had already stuck up their hand during the final applause, but was left unsatisfied).
This time, however – spoilers aside – the Davids came out all right. EDF didn’t win their millions and no-one went to prison (this time, anyway). It was people power that won this battle: the power of Twitter, Facebook and online petitioning, which is, if anything, a reminder that it’s never too late to polish up your action boots and get out there and stop reading labels. See the show, buy the book of poems, buy the cd – because all proceeds go to Danny’s legal costs, and every little helps. Oh - and ask him for me where you put your poo when you live up a power station chimney for a week, will you? - all activists love answering that question.