It was the title of Anders Lustgarten’s brand new play that first drew us in. If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep is a sparkling threat, full of an angry kind of hope. It premiered at the Royal Court last week, amid speculation it might be controversial. It isn’t, but it is punchy and polemical. The fast-paced script is laced with things that will make you shudder.
If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep is an anti-austerity play that imagines a future where the current government’s plans to reduce national debt have been taken to their dystopian extreme. Corporate demons have transferred “the costs of social repair from the taxpayer to the private sector at a healthy return.” If hospital waiting lists and re-offending rates are reduced, a new Unity Bond will pay out. The reality is privatised hospitals that turn wounded people away and innocent people going to prison because the chances of them “re-offending” are low.
The language throughout is abrasive and packed with F and C words. The racist abuse is incredible and appalling. Words run into each other in a way that can be hard to grasp hold of but is entirely human. We are not always eloquent beasts. The cast play multiple parts and the backstage area is exposed. The soundtrack is a booming and busy amalgamation of street noises, Cameron speeches and music. It all works to create a close atmosphere of compromise and despair. But there is wit too, including some great John Terry gags.
The play’s title starts to make most sense towards the end, where various strands are brought together in a would-be “Court of Public Opinion”. Like Lustgarten himself, the activists we meet here want to challenge the system by asking pertinent questions. But these dreamers are ultimately a disappointment. They become comic figures, and the cast stumble over their lines when they start proselytising to an ex-Goldman Sachs employee. They offer us only a weak spike of hope after the much more powerful earlier scenes of social desolation.
In the current climate of swingeing cuts and stealth privatisation, and tax breaks for the rich, If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep is political theatre that demands we open our eyes before it’s too late. It’s a piece of social commentary that you should invite your most right-wing friend too, and then debate for hours afterwards in the pub.