Squabbling over the identity of a society struggling to get by, arguing over which procedures should be considered legitimate and on what grounds, uncovering fault-lines in the community through a series of inconclusive votes. Any of that sound familiar?
Young writer Eilis Price’s Pictland follows five characters who make up the rural community of a quasi-mythic past and who have gathered at a moment of existential threat as their crops are failing and their collective sense of self is fast approaching crisis point as they discuss whether to up sticks and move to the more affluent south, and how and why. They are soon drawn into discussion of their respective differences ranging from their suspicions about mysterious stone carvings to the need for calendars, from the merits of empire to different methods of counting. Some of these are more effective than others but they all lead quickly to the same concern of “who is ‘us’?”
However, the script is strongest in the snappy, light-hearted opening exchanges. The comic interventions delivered with great timing by the well-meaning but naive Bosh (Huw Landauer) are particular high points, puncturing the discussion of identity with memorable lines such as ‘Oh, I thought we were here to talk about the famine.’ Thoughtful direction by Joseph Winer keeps the action light and the stage – bare except for a pile of dirt – interesting.
At its heart, Pictland asks the same question that the UK has been asking itself since 2016 and The Clash have been asking since 1982: should we stay or should we go? But of course, this is not really the issue at hand as much as the questions of who we are, how we represent ourselves, do the people who claim to lead us represent us, and whether or not we even have enough in common to actually consider ourselves an “us”.
These are certainly worthwhile considerations for Price to be engaging and she does so with some character and promise, albeit without any truly piercing moments. She does especially well to avoid slipping into any reductive allegory of Brexit, instead seeking out the more thought-provoking questions that underpin our ideas of democracy. With further deliberation, this could become a very fruitful direction of enquiry. But like the green shoot of Pictland’s field, struggling to raise itself into the wrangling of the people above it, the play’s potential is evident but remains for now, sensed as much as seen.
Pictland is playing the Katzpace until 22 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Katzpace website.