Rebecca Short reviews a new play that depicts the long-term effects of austerity and how it can be fought
Anders Lustgarten's new play, If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep, shows the destruction of the British welfare state at the hands of the Tory-led coalition. Lustgarten came to prominence in 2010 with his play about New Labour and the BNP, A Day at the Racists.
This new play opens with a boardroom meeting at Goldman Sachs in which bankers and business people are discussing ways of making money through the privatisation of the welfare state. Their plan is to sell bonds which pay out to investors when there are reductions in crimes such as rape, private healthcare waiting lists and re-offending rates. Inevitably this venture ends with stockholders betting on the opposite: an increase in crime.
The most interesting parts of the play are the frightening snapshots of a Britain where the welfare state has been privatised and working class people are left without heating or access to healthcare. The play culminates with an autonomist meeting in a "court of public opinion" where activists are organising to put the capitalist system on trial - a scene that will be very familiar to anyone who spent time at the Occupy protests.
The harsh reality depicted in the play may act as a wake up call to some, showing what the destruction of the welfare state threatens for normal working people: a return to the poverty of Victorian times, an increase in racism and a general feeling of hopelessness. The Occupy-style scene, and the political arguments that take place within it are also accurate.
The staging of the play is minimalist, with the acting area simply surrounded by a box of scaffolding that was then built up by the occupiers into the people's courtroom. The characters felt slightly stereotypical: the evil banker, the down to earth working class woman, the racist white working class man made-good, the disillusioned Cambridge graduate and the ultra-left Northern Irish anarchist. The characters aren't that well developed and the dialogue felt very contrived.
While it is good to see austerity and resistance being shown in theatre, the play wasn't that enjoyable. I wouldn't recommend it to those who are already persuaded of the need to fight the cuts.
If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep is at The Royal Court Theatre, London, until 9 March