The Divide - Part 1

Man, I love theatres. It is easy, during the Edinburgh Festival(s) to have a perfectly entertaining month without ever stepping foot in a real theatre. While the Edinburgh Fringe has somewhat eclipsed the International Festival with quantity, by putting shows in hotel rooms, basements and an inflated purple cow, Alan Ayckbourn shoots back with a show that provides ample opportunity to impress with the kind of stagecraft unique to a big theatre.

The characters lack defining motivation, which is realistic, but not compelling

The Divide Pt. 1 is the first half of Ayckbourn’s new epic, which is essentially a dystopian YA play. It’s 2201, and we’re listening to a lecture on ‘the Divide’, a period of time when men and women were forced apart by a plague and a strict moral doctrine. The lecture bleeds into a depiction of it via the diaries of two siblings who lived during the collapse of the system. In Pt. 1, we follow Elihu and Soween from the ages of ten and eight (respectively) through their coming-of-age in the eye of society, and through to their sexual awakening.

Monologue, a kind of dramatisation of the diary entries, turns into dialogue with surprising fluidity. Set pieces pop up behind static monologues, providing new context to the scene, and disappear again just as easily. These scenes are beautiful, created with projection, the ensemble and many wires and curtains. So the waterfall a group of girls hide behind to admire swimming men is realized in all its shimmering glory, and the portrait Elihu works on is magnified, and gains life in front of our eyes. It’s painstakingly crafted, and impossible outside a well-equipped stage like the King’s Theatre.

At the centre of it all are Elihu and Soween, played heroically by Jack Davies and Erin Doherty. Aided by writing which captures their unique voices, they own the spotlight, filling the theatre with the insecurities of youth. With the play covering multiple years, these characters undergo the dramatic transformations that accompany puberty, which they do without losing their charming core.

Despite its strengths Ayckbourn’s script lacks direction, which becomes an exceedingly noticeable obstacle over the course of the three-hour performance. Elihu and Soween’s problems are universal, but fleeting. She struggles to find friends, but only here and there, and he comes to understand his sexuality while not dealing with anything else. The characters lack defining motivation, which is realistic, but not compelling. The Hunger Games’ Katniss also has to grow up in a fantastic post-apocalyptic world, but she had to survive the titular game to get there. Ayckbourn's protagonists struggle to justify the required time investment without that kind of goal.

The Divide Pt. 1 is pretty, the characters are interesting, and the point of view is unique. But The Dreamer, at Pleasance Courtyard, is as technically impressive (and tighter). Plus there are dozens of shows with similarly interesting premises and hundreds that tug the heartstrings more ably. We’ll see if Pt. 2 makes it all worthwhile.

Read the review of Pt 2 here: 

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The Divide - Part 2




The Blurb

The Divide is an extraordinary new work by one of the UK’s greatest storytellers, Alan Ayckbourn. Unfolding over two parts, The Divide is a tale for our own turbulent times that unflinchingly examines a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection.

A century from now England is hit by a deadly contagion. Society is decimated as contact between men and women becomes fatal. Under the dictates of an elusive Preacher, an unthinkable solution is enforced. Separated by the Divide, the adult survivors are segregated by gender with men wearing white as a mark of their purity and women – still infected – clothed in black as a sign of their sin.

Decades later, brother and sister Elihu and Soween are growing up learning the ways of their new, tightly controlled society. As they begin to glimpse the cracks in the system, Elihu falls for the daughter of two radical mothers, risking fatal disease and threatening to ignite a bloody revolution. The Divide is a searing vision of a future defined by brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection.

Spread across two separate parts, The Divide is a hugely engaging and constantly surprising story of a society that segregates – but is still recognisable.

Alan Ayckbourn has produced 80 internationally acclaimed stage works including Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests and A Chorus of Disapproval. His plays are regularly performed all over the world, and have been translated into more than 35 languages.

The Divide receives its premiere in a co-production between The Old Vic, London, Edinburgh International Festival and Karl Sydow, directed by Annabel Bolton, an associate director of The Old Vic.

[Ayckbourn] unfailingly explores themes that tap in to the Zeitgeist

The Telegraph