The Divide: History

The Divide marks a radical departure for Alan Ayckbourn and a deliberate decision by the playwright to push himself in a new direction and write something he had never attempted previously.

The Divide was conceived as prose - ideally to be published as a book - but it has also been described by the playwright as a 'narrative for voices'. It was unveiled during a special gala performance on 27 September 2015 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Behind The Scenes: Novel idea
The Divide is the closest that Alan Ayckbourn has come to producing a novel (and he currently classes it as one of his two books alongside The Crafty Art Of Playmaking) - and he hopes it will be published as a book one day so it can be read as prose. It was also written with the intention it could be performed as a 'narrative for voice'.
Ayckbourn first mooted the idea of writing something very different during 2014. One of his early thoughts was to write a novel which would be unencumbered by the practical limitations of writing a play for performance; he hoped it might then be published in some form.

This idea evolved into
The Divide, told through reportage which could also be performed as a narrative for voice. The plot is set in a post-catastrophic England and follows a forbidden love-affair. It centres on the siblings Elihu and Soween and their lives in a world where contact between adult men and women is forbidden following the outbreak of a fatal disease which has devastated the male population. The sexes are segregated by The Divide, a literal North - South barrier with the men in the north and the women in the south. Birth is by artificial insemination; the resulting rare male children live in the south with their Mama (Mother) and Mapa (Mother Father) until puberty when, for their own safety, they are moved across The Divide into an all male society. Homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is not only deemed to be fatal but also viewed as deviance.

The Divide has been described as being influenced by Margaret Atwood, George Orwell and William Shakespeare and it undoubtedly reflects Alan Ayckbourn's early love of classic works of science-fiction.

Behind The Scenes: Future Archive
The introduction of The Divide makes mention of the archivist Simeon Mappletrosse; not a million miles away from the name of Alan Ayckbourn's own archivist Simon Murgatroyd (and later confirmed in 2017 as being a definitive nod to his archivist).
It was written during April and May 2015 with the initial idea being it would consists of two diaries chronicling a brother and sister's childhoods in a strictly orthodox household in a future dystopia. As he wrote though, it began to expand in all directions gaining a Romeo & Juliet over-arching narrative to it. From a relatively simple idea, the second draft came in at 260 pages, consisting of diary and journal entries, newspaper articles, correspondence, transcripts, council minutes and reportage.

On 4 June 2015, the book's first read-through was held at the writer's home: Alan Ayckbourn himself, his wife Heather Stoney, their PA Katherine Dunn-Mines and Ayckbourn’s Archivist Simon Murgatroyd played all 39 roles which ran to seven-and-a-half hours.

At this point it was suggested by the Stephen Joseph Theatre that
The Divide could be unveiled to the public as a fund-raising read-through as part of the theatre’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

From the core manuscript, Ayckbourn and Katherine Dunn-Mines then produced an edited version 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.
Behind The Scenes: In Parts
The original plan for the gala performance of The Divide in 2015 was to split it into four parts, this was later altered to five parts. In retrospect the playwright has questioned whether this was the right decision given the fourth part ended with the natural climax to the evening.
The gala 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. Costumes were created for the characters and some simple staging effects were used.

The semi-staged reading, in fact, ran for eight-and-a-half hours - including intervals - but was well received by the audience. Although it was a one-off event, Dominic Maxwell attended and gave it a glowing four star review in The Times.

Ayckbourn was uncertain about the future of
The Divide, however the gala reading was attended by 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 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.

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.

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 and worked with Alan to further refine the piece for its West End premiere with it being reworked into a single part rather than a two part production.

The Divide's first public steps being on stage, Alan hopes it will one day be published and presented in the prose form of The Divide he initially envisaged and wrote.

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