The Divide: Synopsis

Administrator's note: Given The Divide was first unveiled to the public on stage, it might be assumed The Divide is an Ayckbourn play suitable for performance. It is worth re-iterating, The Divide is not a play and is - first and foremost - a piece of prose. It just happens to have been first made public as staged readings or, more accurately, as a 'narrative for voice.'

The core 80,000 word manuscript was used as the basis for a gala reading in 2015 for which a third of the material was excised to keep down the running time; it still ran to eight hours including intervals. In 2017, the Old Vic staged the piece at the Edinburgh International Festival, again altering the manuscript to a two part narrative for voice.

For the initial gala reading of The Divide in 2015, Alan Ayckbourn provided the following notes:

Not so long ago, let it not be forgotten, as decreed by The Preacher, Men and Women lived apart on separate sides of the Divide in segregated isolation.
The celebrated novelist Soween Clay-Flin recalls this period in our recent history with dramatised readings based on documents of the period, including her own personal diary as a young girl who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.

For The Old Vic's production, the following advertising copy was used.

The Divide is a tale for our own turbulent times that unflinchingly examines a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection.

In the aftermath of a deadly contagion which has decimated the population, contact between men and women has become fatal. Under the dictates of an elusive and authoritarian Preacher, an unthinkable solution has been enforced. The adult survivors are now segregated by gender and, physically separated, men wear white as a sign of their purity and women - still deemed infected - are clothed in black as a mark of their sin.

As new social norms prevail, brother and sister Elihu and Soween grow up learning the ways of their tightly controlled society. As they begin to glimpse the cracks in the system, Elihu falls for Giella, the daughter of two radical mothers, risking fatal disease and threatening to ignite a bloody revolution.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.