The Divide Part 2

Because of an unfortunate diary clash, I missed Part 1 of Alan Ayckbourn’s major 6 hour epic, The Divide, which is the centrepiece of this year’s Festival drama programme.

Judging by the rather sparse audience at Part 2 it would seem that there was not a huge desire on the part of the Festival public to follow up and conclude this epic.

Part 1 apparently set the scene as to why 100 years hence there is a dystopian society where men and women live separately under a repressive regime. There has been a devastating plague, the male population has been decimated, and as a protective measure the male survivors live up north, while women, deemed to be plague carriers, live down south.

Part 2 follows the awful consequences of what happens when the rules are breached and a teenage boy and girl fall in love. The story is told in a series of diary entries, official edicts, reports and letters. As a result, the register of the play is fairly monotone. The main diarist is Soween – a solid performance by Erin Doherty – who holds the play together by her detailed unfolding of events as her brother, Elihu, falls in love with her best friend Giella.

Doomed by the repressive regime, Elihu is forcibly removed to hospital to be made to appear to die from the plague, while Giella is tried for his murder and sentenced by the women to a slow and brutal death. The women are mainly black garbed forbidding fundamentalists who swear by the Book of Certitude and have frequent disapproving council meetings and impose impossibly harsh punishments.

There is a pleasing accompanying musical score by Christopher Nightingale with choral lyrics sung live by a community choir, but the overall tone of this piece is dark and unpleasant. There are twists, there are turns, and suddenly the ending goes from dystopia to pure Mills and Boon. The turn around seems ludicrous. What has been dark science fiction is now schmalz, complete with golden glitter. The dark clothes are thrown off, and a literally brighter future is now unfurled.

Just what is Ayckbourn trying to say in this play? Something about female emancipation, same sex relationships, totalitarian regimes, all you need is love? And why take six hours in the saying? The three hours I experienced seemed more than enough. I’d usually feel bad about missing part of a serious work, but not this time. With so much good drama around I think I’ll move on.

Drama unstarred as not fully experienced

King’s Theatre, various times until 18th August.


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