The Divide: The Stage Adaptation

Perhaps unfortunately with regard to understanding the history of Alan Ayckbourn's The Divide, it first came to prominence as an adaptation of Alan's prose work leading some to consider it was conceived as either a stage work or a play written by Alan Ayckbourn. It was neither. The Divide was conceived and written as a novel, which was later adapted for the stage with little involvement from the playwright himself.

Alan Ayckbourn wrote
The Divide in 2015 having decided to write something which would be, in his opinion, unstageable (for the complete background, see History). He hoped it would then be published as his debut novel.

However, he did not know how to go about this; his background and publishing contacts were, obviously, all of a theatrical nature. Unsure of how to proceed, he decided he would still like his new work to get public exposure. That year was also the 60th anniversary of his home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre. As a result, it was suggested Alan might like to present
The Divide as a public reading; this in turn might attract the attention of someone interested in publishing the play.

From the core manuscript, Ayckbourn and Katherine Dunn-Mines then produced an edited version of the entire novel suitable for reading at the gala reading, which took place on 27 September 2015. This version ran to five parts and was designed to be presented with breaks during a single day. Despite cutting a third of the book, the reading still ran for approximately eight hours!

The reading included the current Ayckbourn company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre joined by previous company members including Liza Goddard and Heather Stoney; Alan Ayckbourn's wife, making her first stage appearance since the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's
Woman In Mind in 1982.

The reading, despite its length, was well received by the audience and the critic Dominic Maxwell attended and gave it a glowing four star review in The Times. Sadly, it did not generate any interest from perspective publishers.

Where it did generate interest though was with Annabel Bolton, Associate Director at The Old Vic - who had previously worked at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Her enthusiasm for the piece led to her asking Ayckbourn for permission to approach The Old Vic's Artistic Director, Mathew Warchus, about adapting and developing
The Divide for the stage.

Warchus gave Annabel approval to proceed with
The Divide as a staged performance for the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival. Ayckbourn gave her free reign as to how to present and adapt it, but had no actual involvement in the production. To facilitate the scale of the work, Annabel decided to split the text into two manageable parts to preserve the piece’s integrity.

Annabel worked from the edited version of the work used for the SJT reading and largely created around the structure created for this. She created a framing device for the piece and then began to incorporate multi-media aspects as well as a choral element. The adaptation was undoubtedly ambitious and impressive although, arguably, now quite far from what Alan had originally conceived
The Divide to be.

The Divide also marked the first time a piece of work by Alan Ayckbourn had been presented at the Edinburgh International Festival. Whilst critical reaction was largely negative towards The Divide, there was a positive response from audiences towards the piece and the playwright himself was extremely impressed by the production and the company. Whilst the critical reaction was less kind, there is a significant caveat as it was almost universally incorrectly reported The Divide was a play by Alan Ayckbourn when it was not. It was a staged adaptation by Annabel Bolton of a novel by Alan Ayckbourn.

Following the Edinburgh production, The Old Vic announced
The Divide would be part of its bicentennial season in 2018 for a limited run from 1 - 10 February. Drawing from the experience of staging it at Edinburgh, Annabel Bolton met with Alan who offered suggestions as to how to further refine the piece for its West End premiere with it being reworked into a single part. Reduced to approximately four hours (approximately a third of the length of the final prose work), the piece received four star reviews from The Daily Telegraph and The Times.

Having seen the adaptation and despite having been wary of
The Divide being adapted for the stage, Alan enjoyed the production and appreciated the work of Annabel and the company as well as the general reaction to the piece from audiences.

In 2019,
The Divide was finally published in the form Alan Ayckbourn had intended as a novel. As a result, it is doubtful that he will ever give permission for the stage adaptation of The Divide to be produced again.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.