Like the inventions of Sir Clive Sinclair, celebrated in the play, Together in Electric Dreams offers value for money. You get two plays for the price of one. There is a goofball (crowd pleasing) comedy and a more thoughtful piece on the clash between ideals and commercial interests. But, like Sir Clive’s inventions, the play is not always successful.
On the verge of bankruptcy Sir Clive (Daniel Thackeray who wrote the play and also directs with Fi Hudson) meets to discuss a takeover with Alan Sugar (Matthew O’Neill). Sugar wants the patents to Sir Clive’s inventions so that, using non-British labour, he can manufacture more robust versions. Sir Clive wants to preserve the jobs of his workforce and continue his inventions.
Sinclair is characterised as an unworldly paternal inventor. He perfected, but did not patent, the pocket calculator. Rather condescendingly he believed his customers could not manage without after-sales service (mind you in view of the many problems he wasn’t far wrong). Thackeray concentrates on succinctly communicating the reasons for the decline in Sinclair’s fortunes rather than telling a dramatic story. There is a lack of passion – no sense of a clash between an inventor/artist and a philistine or the fall of a great man.
Part of this is due to Thackeray’s reserved interpretation of Sinclair which may be accurate but it hardy makes the character endearing. The potential clash between the different personalities and philosophies feels prosaic rather than fascinating. You are drawn to Sugar just because O’Neill makes him so human. When asked if he really wants to talk about Sinclair’s disastrous C5 vehicle O’Neill replies with wolfish grin that he is dying to.
Having brought the story of the takeover to a logical climax Thackeray tags on what feels like a crowd-pleasing encore complete with a filmed insert and a sing-a-long (no, really). The actors basically run through all the jokes and stories about Sinclair’s failed inventions. This is very funny and goes down great with the people who have an interest in the subject and can spot the in-jokes. The rest of the audience might struggle with the references to devices that have been out of commission for some time.
Together in Electric Dreams is an enjoyable play but might have been even better if Thackeray could decide if it was a comedy or a drama rather than the uneven blend of the two.