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: http://broadwaybaby.com/shows/the-divide-part-2/722872