Firebrand playwright Anders Lustgarten makes his Royal Court debut with this heftily-titled new work, which offers up a foreboding vision of the future (in more ways than one).
‘If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep’ imagines a Britain not far from now in which the government has privatised the welfare state, with predictably horrendous results. It also, by its very form – leftwing polemic, presented in a production ‘without décor’ (ie, there’s no set) – anticipates the very real possibility that no frills agit prop theatre may experience a resurgence in the wake of the mounting ravages of austerity.
Real agit prop tends to be more lo-fi than this, a Royal Court main house production, with a first rate cast, nimble, kinetic direction from Simon Godwin, supported by the Harold Pinter Playwright’s Award. Nonetheless, it has the tang of the real stuff, and for its first half it rattles by in an exhilarating flood of bile and wit, as Lustgarten conjures a blackly comic near future in which the moneymen (and women) have trashed everything. It’s shouty and splenetic, but the short scenes keep things feisty, fiery and free of undue pontification.
But then it makes the mistake of stopping to catch its breath. The frantic pace gives way to a second half that consists solely of one, long scene, in which a group of thinly-written UK Uncut-style protestors enjoy a facts’n’figures heavy banter about the state of contemporary capitalism. Some of it is funny, some of it is utterly cringey, none of it offers any emotional or narrative pay-off for what has come before; the dystopian strand is casually and frustratingly abandoned.
Lustgarten may still blossom into a provocateur of substance, but he’s slightly fluffed this big break, with a wonky, underwritten play that loses persuasiveness power the minute it slows down. Andrzej Lukowski