The Divide - Part 2

In The Divide Pt 2, Alan Ayckbourn answers my primary issues with Pt 1: the lack of a driving narrative force, and an associated lack of meaningful emotional resonance. The plot comes into focus in Pt 2 quickly as a forbidden romance becomes a political statement. That brings emotional weight as people are made to suffer because of an act of love. The show’s tech, while less eminently magical than in Pt. 1, is now in service to pathos, and is effective in that role. However, Pt 2 instead has its own unique problems.

The Divide is worth the six-hour investment, but I wish I was happier with it than I am.

One is an issue of pace. Pt 1 takes place over a number of years; Pt 2 primarily stretches over just a few months. This different level of focus is a necessary result of the development of the plot, but sometimes Ayckbourn’s script gets too granular in its recording. I like that this half uses ‘sources’ beyond the two diaries, which provides perspective as well as enhancing the unique feel of the play as a historical document. But the diaries are, in contrast, less than thrilling at times. Soween spends days learning names of dead men as penitence, and we hear about every one of them.

As in other epics (Return of the King comes to mind) the story’s epilogue is too long and too neat. Every minor character is given some sort of resolution, and for the most part, I don’t care. Without the tension caused by the Divide, these romances are uninteresting.

But the biggest disappointment lies in the conclusion for one main character. In the world of the play, homosexual relationships are the norm, because sexes cannot touch each other. Once that system falls, a number of characters pursue heterosexual unions, which makes sense, because some people are heterosexual. But one particular character never expressed an interest in men. In fact, she seemed baffled that other women found them anything other than bothersome, and instead had a number of genuine crushes on other women. So, it is truly appalling when, in the closing minutes of the show, a man sticks his tongue down her throat and then they get married. This kind of ‘conversion’ plays on the worst ideas about homosexuality and I am shocked that a team as large and intelligent as that behind The Divide allowed it to stand.

That said, everything that is good about Pt 1 is also good here, including the technical elements, scene-setting, voice and the performances by leads Jake Davies and Erin Doherty. I’ll add that Richard Katz has a hard role, responsible for playing every other man in the show, and does so with aplomb, and Sophie Melville drives some of my favourite scenes in her secondary role as the secretary of the town council. Composer Christopher Nightingale provides a sweet soundtrack. The Divide is worth the six-hour investment, but I wish I was happier with it than I am.

[You can read the review of Pt 1 here: http://broadwaybaby.com/shows/the-divide-part-1/722911]

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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The Divide - Part 2

★★★

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Performances

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The Blurb

Part two of The Divide - an extraordinary new work by one of the UK’s greatest storytellers, Alan Ayckbourn. 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

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