Writer: Anders Lustgarten
Director: Simon Godwin
Reviewer: Andy Moseley
In his programme notes, Anders Lustgarten says “now’s the time for the return of proper political theatre.” While some may argue it has never really gone away, it’s true that there has been a dearth of good political theatre recently, with too many ‘politics by numbers’ plays that tick social concern boxes as a way of securing a production, rather than because of any real conviction on the part of the writer. Lustgarten’s play, and Lustgarten himself, are a different proposition, he clearly means what he says, says what he believes, and delivers it with passion and commitment in If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep.
Although a one-act play, the play divides into two halves. The first comprises a series of short interlinked scenes and stories highlighting the danger of selling off public problems for private gain. The opening scene is a particularly well observed piece of political satire as a Government minister meets with private investors and a Regenerator Innovator, to discuss how to transfer the costs of social repair from the taxpayer to the private sector at a healthy return. It’s Yes Prime Minister, but with a social conscience and political morality in place of smug self-satisfaction. Worryingly, there is nothing in it that you could not imagine happening in the corridors of Whitehall on a regular basis.
The rest of the first half shows the impact of these policies on a diverse group of characters. The rapid pace of the scene changes occasionally feels too frenetic, there are some scenes you want to run a bit longer, but at the same time there are others that are so unflinching in their honesty that you can almost feel sections of the audience wanting them to end. That they don’t is something that adds to the strength of the production.
The dangers of portmanteau plays are avoided as each strand gives its own message and comes together to form a cohesive whole, paving the way for the second half where a group of battle-worn protestors, and newer recruits to the cause, plan to put the banks on trial in The Court of Public Opinion. It won’t be a plot spoiler to say the verdict never seems likely to go in the banks’ favour, but the range of evidence Lustgarten has assembled, together with the way he presents his arguments, makes it a compelling case, and almost impossible to disagree with his conclusions.
The cast all deliver excellent performances, and it’s impossible to single any one person out for individual praise in an ensemble piece with no weak links in the chain. The same applies to the rest of the production. David McSeveney’s sound design makes every one of the multiple settings come alive, and turns Lucy Sierra’s minimalist set design, with chairs, tables and banners the only adornments on an otherwise bare stage, into a strength, stripping the production of any unnecessary clutter.
This is a play that reclaims political theatre, and rejuvenates it as intelligent, well-considered drama, entertaining and informing in equal measure. It’s not going to win any friends among the coalition or the doyens of the city, but that in itself is a reason to see it and hear what it has to say.