Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Despite a title that invokes memories of 80’s cinema-related synth-pop, this work has very little to do with dreams – electric or otherwise, and more about the pursuit of memory, and the disposability of humanity.
If you ever pick up the Naomi Klein book The Shock Doctrine, it’s likely you’ll find it just as terrifying as any Stephen King horror. The discussions explored in the early chapters talk about electric shock therapy in the seventies, exploring the idea that it is, in theory, possible to ‘rewrite’ a persona by obliterating one’s sense of self via sensory deprivation, and then inserting new codes into a mind that, in its sense of shock, is essentially new-born. Such techniques, it is believed, have been used by the CIA. It’s further posited that these techniques can be used not only on a person, but a people: introducing emergency laws or sanctions when people are reeling from a massive trauma, such as hurricane Katrina, or 9/11. It doesn’t take too long to consider that at some point governments tire of waiting for a natural disaster, but wish to engineer such trauma themselves.
It’s this that has prompted the creation of ‘Electric Dreams’, a piece of urgent theatre that inevitably only scratches the surface of the very big themes it is exploring. A framing sequence regarding a library earmarked for closure doesn’t immediately make sense, until you are reminded of the power of a single voice shouting back. This invokes Caitlin Moran’s essay about ‘a trillion small doors closing’ essay (which you really should google, by the way), and the importance of making a stand against governments casually crushing people under the guise of austerity measures (to pick a not entirely random example).
If you’re not familiar with the arguments in The Shock Doctrine, this piece runs the risk of coming across like a conspiracy theorist’s bedroom wall: unrelated disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes being engineered by shadowy government agencies. The ideas being posited are actually more elegant than that, and will strike a chord with anyone having vital funding cut, but it’s true that this text is challenging for any audiences coming in completely cold.
There is a lot of information to deliver in a very tight space of time, so the piece inevitably gets a bit exposition-heavy at times, without the saving grace of it being exactly verbatim theatre. While this is occasionally fictionalised, the facts as presented are all essentially true, and the speed at which certain facts and figures are delivered can occasionally rob them of just how jaw-dropping they are. That said, as in the Klein book, scaling back the magnitude of the numbers to one woman’s story does succeed in making the horror story more vital and true. It’s possible that Electric Dreams deserves an expanded running time and a more unashamedly documentary feel to truly communicate the horrors of the shock doctrine.