The Theatreguide.London Review
Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep
Royal Court Theatre Spring 2013
Anger can galvanise writers, putting acid in their pens and persuasive energy in what they write. Or it can cripple writers, making them lose control of their craft and leaving them sputtering in tongue-tied frustration.
As previous plays, notably 2010's A Day At The Racists, have shown, Anders Lustgarten is a playwright who can combine a social or political message with psychological depth and involving drama. But this time around he is angry – at bankers, at the government, at anyone who makes life hard for the little guy – and his passion overpowers his craft and he has not written a successful play to express that anger.
One sign of the playwright's tenuous control over his anger is that, despite being just over an hour long, the play breaks down into three strands with different subjects and styles.
It opens as Swiftian satire, imagining a group of bankers inventing a new profit machine in the form of bonds to finance the privatisation of social services from prisons to hospitals, with dividends to be paid for success in reducing crime, poverty and the like.
Exactly how that would produce profit is never explained, but becomes moot when the financiers realise they can short-sell those same bonds and actually profit even more from a rise in crime, poverty and the like.
Having run out of steam on that subject, the play drops it for a sequence of episodes demonstrating the general unhappiness of ordinary people running afoul of quotas or targets.
There are hits of an attractive Alice In Wonderland wit here, as in the prison system looking to reduce recidivism by letting career criminals go and only locking up those least likely to re-offend.
But they're undeveloped and the play soon shifts gears again, bringing some of the characters we've met before together as a cell of protesters and utilising the clumsy device of having a stranger wander in so they can explain their grievances to him.
In a lecture thinly disguised as a conversation they make the quasi-legal case for the government reneging on the debts it incurred to bail out the banks, thus somehow ending austerity and bringing prosperity and happiness to all.
Well, yes, the idea of City traders finding a way to profit from rising crime and misery is clever, if not fully thought through, and it can't hurt to be told once more about how little people are being screwed by the system, and the argument for defaulting on government debt, dubious as it is, might be worth a hearing in The Economist or some other journal. But they don't add up to a play.
There's just too much going on, shooting off in too many directions, and with the playwright's passion repeatedly foiling the clear development of any of his ideas or the creation of a dramatic reality.
Director Simon Godwin tries to juggle the several themes, modes and tones of the play, dropping the ball in the final sequence, where the explanation of the default-on-the-debt plan, barely clear in the printed text, is raced through too quickly in performance to be followable.
The cast of eight, most of them doubling and tripling roles, are given little opportunity to develop any of them, Lucian Msamati and Susan Brown being most successful.