The Divide: BackgroundThe 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 has never attempted before. He describes it as a narrative for voices - although it can also be read as a book - and it was unveiled during a special gala performance on 27 September 2015 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
Alan Ayckbourn first mooted the idea of writing something radically different during 2014. One of his early ideas was to write a novel which would be unencumbered by the practical limitations of writing a play for performance; this, he hoped, might then be published in some form. This would then form the basis of a play which would attempt to adapt an ambitious narrative within the limitations of the stage.
This idea evolved into The Divide, a narrative for voices, which 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 has become fatal and the sexes are separated by the Divide with men living in the north and women in the south. The Divide has been described as being influenced by the likes of Margaret Atwood, George Orwell and William Shakespeare - not a bad pedigree! Whilst it presents challenges as a live performance, it was actually first presented publicly as a semi-staged reading in a fund-raising event as part of the Stephen Joseph Theatre's 60th anniversary celebrations.
The Divide was written during April and May 2015 and the second draft came in at 260 pages consisting of diary and journal entries, newspaper articles, transcripts, council minutes and reportage. On 4 June 2015, the first read-through of the play was held consisting of the playwright himself, Lady Ayckbourn, her PA Katherine Dunn-Mines and Alan's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd playing all 39 roles which ran to seven-and-a-half hours.
From this, Alan Ayckbourn and Katherine Dunn-Mines produced an edited version suitable for performance for the gala performance at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on 27 September 2015. The edited version running to five parts designed to be performed with breaks during a single performance.
The gala performance included the current Ayckbourn company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre as well as special guests such as 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 semi-staged / read performance actually ran for eight-an-a-half hours - including intervals - but was well received by the audience. Although a one-off event, The Times reviewer Dominic Maxwell attended and gave a glowing four star review to The Divide.
Despite Alan's uncertainty other the future of The Divide, the gala performance was seen 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 approaching The Old Vic's Artistic director, Mathew Warchus, about developing The Divide and then Alan himself. This led to Annabel being given permission to develop The Divide for the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival as a stage performance complete with choral and multi-media elements. Split into two parts so as to preserve the integrity of the work without hitting the same length issue of the original gala performance, Alan has given the production free reign in how to present The Divide. This will also mark the first time a piece of work by Alan Ayckbourn has been presented at the Edinburgh International Festival.
On the same day The Divide was announced for the Edinburgh International Festival, it was also confirmed the piece would receive its London premier at the Old Vic later in the year with further details to be announced.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.