If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep depicts a government that has privatised the welfare state, with catastrophic results for its citizens. The play exposes the failures of our society, from bankers planning to extend privatisation to hospitals trying to reduce waiting lists by not putting people on them. The play jumps through scenes exposing the madness of privatisation with the stories of two contrasting men, Ryan, a white working-class youngster, and McDonald, an African immigrant, looking at how society make their lives clash.
The play is lifted by its brilliant cast (with Susan Brown, Ferdy Roberts and Meera Syal to name a few) who not only listen to each other and make the heavy context of this play seem as natural and human as a pint in the pub, but also commit to it with every fibre of their bodies even though their material is hard to lift off the floor. The short scenes are truthful and emotionally charged, all questioning today’s society – and hats off for playwright Anders Lustgarden for not missing out a single detail, and throwing himself and his political views out there like a twenty-first century Brecht. However, Lustgarden gets a bit lost in his political views and forgets the characters he’s chosen to tell his story. The scenes change so rapidly and only come together in the end, leaving us without knowing who his characters really are. They are his oral instruments but at times without subtext and inner life.
Lustgarden has a natural flair for language and there are some beautiful moments of sincerity and drama, one of these when Joan (the brilliant Susan Brown) and McDonald Moyo (charismatic Lucian Msamati) confide in each other in two different languages with no clue of what the other’s saying, only a mutual pain connecting them. The play’s crisp and beautiful headliner “I don’t know what you’re afraid of, but I know what it looks like. I was married to fear most of my life. Don’t give into it”, should have had its space and resonance in the final scene of the play, however it is brushed off and thrown away, and we are left with the slight disappointment that none of the characters allow us to get inside their heads.
However director Simon Godwin manages to pull the strings together and with the fantastic sound designer David McSeveney and design consultant Lucy Sierra he has created a production that has the visuals for a Brechtian feel. It is also worth mentioning that casting director Amy Ball has done a fantastic job finding so many amazing actors for this production.
The play throws a lot of balls up in the air but instead of catching them they float around the space until the very end when we finally get a sense of togetherness. You only wish a few of them would have been caught a bit earlier on to make more sense of the story and its characters. That way the play could have risen from interesting to brilliant.
If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep is at the Royal Court until 9 March. More information and tickets from the Royal Court’s website.