Review Round-up: Syal stars in Lustgarten's Dream
Anders Lustgarten's If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep premiered at the Royal Court Theatre last night (20 February 2013).
Lustgarten’s piece explores the politics behind global banking from the view of some “do-gooder capitalists.” Directed by Simon Godwin, the cast features Meera Syal, Susan Brown, Ben Dilloway, Laura Elphinstone, Daniel Kendrick, Damien Molony, Lucian Msamati and Ferdy Roberts. It runs until 9 March.
Well, it makes a change: a flat-out protest play that recalls the days of 1970s agitprop so cosily referenced in the musical Billy Elliot... it would be wrong to dismiss this eighty-minute, cleverly interwoven “tirade” as self-indulgent liberalism. It’s not woolly and it’s not cheaply anarchic. My complaint is that it’s not densely written enough, and it lacks any governing theatrical dynamic. A few ironic clashes engineered between the characters launching a public show trial – of whom, exactly; the bankers? George Osborne? Maynard Keynes? – in a squat led by Meera Syal’s unlikely middle-aged protester with a head wound are not really enough for a theatrical event... Still, I like the cut of Lustgarten’s jib, the tiger in his tank, and he’ll be saying a lot of things that haven’t been heard in our theatre for a long time. He could even be lining himself up as the first genuinely intellectual left-wing dramatist since Trevor Griffiths and David Edgar.
Performed by a game, multi-tasking cast in Simon Godwin's starkly stripped-back 75-minute production, the play moves forward in abrupt jumps as it shows how meeting targets rather than answering human needs is now more than ever the priority... Lustgarten's disgust is bracing as he begs to differ, big-time... But this author's skills as a polemicist, seemingly a stranger to self-doubt, still far exceed his talents as a dramatist, as is exemplified by unabashed clumsiness of the long final scene where of a group of activists in a squatted courtroom prepare to put the entire capitalist system on public trial. Lustgarten is right to castigate the cosiness of much political drama but this play operates within a comfort zone of its own... And are they right to see austerity as a con-trick designed to effect a massive redistribution of wealth? Conveniently ending before the debate proper begins, the play never subjects these contentions to sufficiently rigorous scrutiny.
The Evening Standard
Anders Lustgarten’s play has a wonderful title - apparently a slogan adopted by Spanish anti-capitalism protesters. Its subject, the politics of our current financial system, is less fresh. But it is important and Lustgarten, the Oxford-educated son of two American academics, is a fierce writer whose activism blends intellectual curiosity and idealism... Whatever you make of Lustgarten’s ideas, there are some stinging lines. But in an hour and a quarter a cast of eight portrays about 20 characters, few of whom feel three-dimensional... These people are mouthpieces. And the play is structurally awkward, not least when it stops abruptly, just as it’s beginning to get really interesting.
...Would that the guillotine had come down on this play, too. It lasts only 80 minutes but still grotesquely outstays its welcome... The show presents Britain going to hell in a handcart, with people being turned away from hospital to keep the waiting lists down and young offenders being brutally fitted up by privatised security firms. All of this has a grain of truth in it, but the play is so intemperate, and so one-dimensional in its characterisation, that one almost finds oneself siding with the evil capitalists... The characterisation is trite... Simon Godwin’s production is presented without decor to underline the austerity of the present times, and the cast, including Meera Syal, Laura Elphinstone, Daniel Kendrick and Lucian Msamati do their best with multiple, thinly drawn characters. Despite their endeavours however this agitprop drama about zombie capitalism is likely to leave many in its audience with a feeling of living death.
... This 75-minute piece, he says, is “proper political theatre”… Via his various mouthpieces we gather that he is against bank bailouts, non-doms, markets, Starbucks, Vodafone, Downton Abbey, monarchy, Cameron, Osborne, Gove and the Criminal Justice Act, which (in a section about illegal raves) he erroneously and biliously believes tried completely to “ban all music characterised by a succession of repetitive beats”. Eight actors play 20 parts, under Simon Godwin’s brisk direction. Meera Syal shows the lightning adaptiveness of an old sketch-comedy hand as minister, bureaucrat and veteran revolutionary; Laura Elphinstone is equally protean and Lucian Msamati most interesting of all... The first part is all crabby caricature... But having drained this bile, Lustgarten’s second half displays more thought, flashes of wit, even mild self-mockery... It’s still simplistic and smug, but it does get interesting.
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 shout-y 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...Some of it is funny, some of it is utterly cringe-y, 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 the minute it slows down.
...Anders Lustgarten’s lacklustre play about privatisation and popular protest is unlikely to be remembered as the jewel in Dominic Cooke’s crown... ’s a bold dramatic gambit that only exposes the writing’s imaginative shortcomings. The satire is secondhand and takes aim at over-familiar targets: Libor rate fixing, tax-dodging corporations and – bafflingly – Chelsea footballer John Terry (twice). Meanwhile the talented cast, including Meera Syal and Damien Molony, struggle to breathe credible life into the one-dimensional salt-of-the-earth characters.