Electric Dreams

Theatre, Fringe
3 out of 5 stars
Electric Dreams, Dumbshow

Chilling but charming drama based on Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine'

‘Electric Dreams’ is a stirring but endearingly twee piece of political theatre from Dumbshow: agitprop with good manners. 

As it begins, we’re confronted by the four-strong cast wearing the sort of animal masks beloved by makers of confrontational contemporary European theatre… which they then whip off, declaring themselves to be a bunch of very angry librarians who have a story to tell us.

And what a story it is – the life of a Canadian woman, Rose (Pia de Keyser), who meets and falls in love with a torture victim of the Pinochet regime, Sebastian (Jack Cole), who in turn helps her confront the mysterious amnesia that has ruined her life, tracing it back to a spell receiving therapy from the controversial Scottish-born psychiatrist Ewen Cameron. His techniques involved effectively overloading the mind and trying to rebuild it with new fundamentals – and his research was sponsored by the American government, who went on to use both as a torture technique, and later as the model for the shock and awe strategy of the second Iraq War.

If this sounds unbelievable – well it kind of is, insofar as Rose and Sebastian are fictional. But Cameron was real enough, and ‘Electric Dreams’ is substantially based upon Naomi Klein’s bestseller ‘The Shock Doctrine’, which covers all this in depth, further postulating that Western governments have – in very recent history – used ‘shocks’ – 9/11, the credit crunch – to impose radical agendas – war, austerity – upon their citizens.

If you’re wondering how this computes with a sweet play about some angry librarians – well basically there is an awful lot of talking, as Rose (in a proxy Naomi Klein role) shows up at an English library and tasks the staff with helping her prove the link between the research that was done on her and subsequent government atrocities. The volume of exposition in the final quarter is absurd, but Dumbshow set to their task with wide-eyed enthusiasm, a cuddliness that cushions the clunkiness. There’s a slicker, hipper version of this show to be made, but probably not a more charming one.