First published in The Times, Wednesday August 26 2015
This ambitious new piece from Dumbshow was inspired by Naomi Klein’s 2007 polemic The Shock Doctrine, which argues that political leaders manufacture major crises in order to divert attention away from controversial policies. The show, which weaves together some of the atrocities described in Klein’s book, including the torture carried out by the Chilean military dictatorship following the coup d’état of 1973, has a moving human story at its heart, even if its marriage of drama and politics isn’t always harmonious.
Pia de Keyser gives a nicely understated performance as Rose, a young Canadian woman who, for mysterious reasons, has wiped the first portion of her life from her memory. When she meets and falls in love with Sebastian (Jack Cole), a survivor of torture under Pinochet, he encourages her to look for clues in her past. It isn’t long before Rose has made the connection between the shock therapy she received while studying at McGill University, Montreal, and the mind control experiments developed by Dr Ewen Cameron under the auspices of the CIA during the Cold War.
The award-winning company has hit on a fertile subject and there are one or two chillingly effective moments here, such as the scene in which Cameron’s reasons for administering electroconvulsive therapy are overlaid with Donald Rumsfeld’s justification for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Yet director Michael Bryher and his team struggle to give dramatic shape to their research. The compelling main plot thread gives way to a story about a threatened library closure in Britain that comes to rely too heavily on exposition by members of the supporting cast.
It is impossible to argue with Rose’s passionate mantra: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!” The ideas in this show would be much easier to digest, however, if the storytelling and staging were a little less unwieldy.