Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122AD to keep barbarians out of Roman Britain; by 2044 the wall is back, but this time it’s to keep the English out of a brutally independent Scotland. The English are drowning in their thousands due to a catastrophic rise in sea levels, so the Scottish Republican government has a refugee crisis on its hands. It determines that only young, healthy workers can enter the country, and that no child of English parents can be born in Scotland. It’s a solid plot line – solid and vicious and tense.
Character is almost subordinate to these harsh circumstances, but finds definition in set-piece encounters, generally one-on-one. Maria (Megan Matheson-Adams), a nurse, and Jasper (Ciaran Drysder), an electrician, have refugee status – but Jasper has got a nasty cough. Hayden (Russell Dudley) is in the same hostel, and is officious to the point of bullying.
There is also the Narrator (Dudley), who is Scottish and dispassionate. He’s important because he steps in at precise intervals to deliver the historical bulletins. In 2041, for instance, London was submerged, and the loss of life in England overall is appalling. The fact that these items are reported in authoritative Scots has an interesting distancing effect – if not to apologise for what is happening in the “settlements”, at least to acknowledge the racism and hatred that has been allowed to surface.
2044 is only twenty-eight years away from now, and while the dystopian forecasting of Drysder’s play may be callous, it is not ridiculous. His suggestions that Scotland has lost most of its oil revenue, and its health service is collapsing, are not at all far-fetched. The next steps are disturbingly credible too: political unrest has produced assassination and a near totalitarian regime; working conditions for the refugees approach servitude. Food, to judge by Jasper’s romantic meal, is rationed (but provides probably the only humour in the piece). Family ties are loosened, or lost altogether.
Orwell’s 1984 is on the kitchen table and – 60 years on – there are thoughtful similarities: Jasper and Maria’s rushed relationship could be Winston and Julia’s, Hayden an agent in the Thought Police of a retributive and doctrinaire state. So 2044 has impact; perhaps considerable impact to some. But its linear form, punctuated by the Narrator’s announcements, is clunky, and the dialogue is sometimes too terse to register more than the frantic or the despondent. Create too much suspicion, and little appears genuine – and the acting looks constrained. Further development of Hayden’s conflicted role would be one way forward, I think.
It is to the young writer’s credit that he seeks positive outcomes from a dire situation. The flyer for 2044 is daubed with “Love, Justice, Forgiveness”. Yes, the last scene offers escape and the last bulletin is a plea for understanding, but I would say that for now the message does not make it over the wall. Still, I do look forward to 2055.