The Divide: Interview with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview between Alan Ayckbourn and his archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, took place on 2 March 2017 subsequent to the announcement The Divide was to receive its world premiere at Edinburgh International Festival in 2017.

Simon MurgatroydYou wrote The Divide in 2015, where it had a single staged reading which ran to eight hours. What are your thoughts to see it now at the Edinburgh International Festival?
Alan Ayckbourn: It is a nice surprise.

How did you come to write The Divide?
I wrote it under very extraordinary circumstances because I just wanted to write something I couldn’t even see myself directing. I just let my mind go into free fall - in the sense that I threw my constructional kit away - and I just wrote something that went on and on and which still hopefully obeyed the rules of narrative and character, but that was probably unstageable. It was like nothing I had ever written before.

So you had no idea what, if anything, would come of The Divide?
Not really. I just wanted to explore something that I wasn’t really in control of and - as a result - I said prior to that first and, I thought, last reading in Scarborough in 2015, that ‘this is something you’re probably not going to see again, folks.’

How then did it end up at the Edinburgh International Festival?
Sitting in the audience for that gala reading was Annabel Bolton, who had come up on behalf of Matthew Warchus at The Old Vic and who had once worked at the Stephen Jospeh Theatre. Fortunately, she was taken by The Divide and not only picked up half a tonne of script and ran off on the train with it, but also stuck with it and really wanted to turn it into something else.

What did you think to that?
I just said to her, ‘listen that’s what it’s there for. It’s a production waiting to happen.’ If I’d somehow done it, it would have been no doubt different to how she’s envisaging it, but nonetheless she and her creative team had some extraordinary ideas and have been trying to tame it and get it down to a reasonable size. They’re doing it in two halves and the’ve added music and a choir. There’s also quite a big cast of fourteen.

Returning to The Divide itself, what is its premise?
It’s set in a future England where a disease has decimated the world population having mutated and started killing men whilst leaving the women. So it became necessary to segregate the population into men and women and, because of this, it has become the norm for same sex relationships and, in this world, heterosexuality is perceived to be abnormal. It’s a sort of sexual satire really.

So Annabel Bolton is attempting to stage the unstageable?
Annabel has a big task. The Divide is a big design concept even if you did it very simply. Annabel’s not blinked and is doing things I wouldn’t - couldn’t - do in Scarborough - have done. She’s got video and all sorts of fascinating ideas and accoutrements.

What do you think the appeal of - in your case - writing and - in Annabel’s case - directing something so different?
Personally, I think it is quite nice to occasionally just challenge yourself - which is why I wrote it originally. This is certainly going to challenge Annabel and her team.

Any final thoughts on it?
I just think it shows enormous courage to tackle it and it shows a touching faith in the piece, that Annabel has picked it up and run with it. God help her! I think it’s a very brave thing to do and I wish her and her team every success. I’m dying to see it!

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright owner.