The Divide: Frequently Asked Questions

Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd's answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Alan Ayckbourn's The Divide. If you have a question about this or any other of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, you can contact the website via the Contact Us page.

What exactly is Alan Ayckbourn's The Divide?
It is a prose book which has also been described as a 'narrative for voice'. It is a piece of work that tells its story through reportage, diary entries, newspaper cuttings, minutes, first hand reports and other elements. Although intended to be read, it can be performed as a narrative for voice - however it is not regarded as a play; for example, the Old Vic's 2017 adaptation used costume, multi-media and music alongside the reading of the story, but was still a staged adaptation of Ayckbourn's prose work presented as a 'narrative for voice'.

What number in the Ayckbourn play canon is The Divide?
The Divide is not considered a play, as a result it does not have a number and is not considered part of Alan Ayckbourn's full-length play canon. It was written in 2015 and within this website is labelled as one of the playwright's 'other works'; it is - more accurately - a prose book or 'narrative for voice'.

Has The Divide been published?
It is currently hoped The Divide will be published in 2019 in the format originally intended by the author as a collection of archive reportage (journal entries, letters, transcriptions of meetings, book extracts etc) allowing The Divide to be seen as the author originally intended.

What led to it being staged?
After completing The Divide in 2015, Alan Ayckbourn agreed that a rehearsed reading of the book could take place at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, as a gala fund-raiser. The book was edited to approximately two thirds of its actual length and performed with basic costume and lighting in an event that lasted more than eight hours. Amongst the audience was Annabel Bolton, an Associate Director for The Old Vic, which led to it being further developed for stage (see below).

When was it actually premiered on stage?
This depends. It was first publicly performed in a semi-staged reading at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on 27 September 2015. However, its premier as a staged work is considered to be The Old Vic's production which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival on 11 August 2017, directed by Annabel Bolton.

What led The Old Vic to stage The Divide at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2017?
The original semi-staged reading was seen by Annabel Bolton, an Associate Director at the Old Vic, who had also previously worked at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Enthusiastic about the piece, she took a copy of the script home with her and presented it and a plan for staging to the Old Vic's Artistic Director, Matthew Warchus, who agreed - along with Alan Ayckbourn's blessing - to let Annabel develop it for the stage. The staged work was adapted with both choral and music elements, multi-media, costume and full lighting set over a two part performance. It has been adapted from the original script (initially with a framing device which was later dropped). The staged work is, at it implies, a professional staged production of the work.

How much different was the Old Vic's production to the original work?
By the time The Divide reached The Old Vic, its running time was approximately four hours. In broad terms, this is approximately two-thirds shorter than the material in the prose version. Although the basic plot was the same, much of the texture and world-building from the prose had been cut.

What was Alan Ayckbourn's connection to the Old Vic's production which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival?
There is no direct connection other than the playwright gave the director, Annabel Bolton, his blessing and free rein to adapt The Divide for a staged work. He did not adapt the book for the stage, contribute to the production nor direct it. His first experience of this adaptation was when he visited the festival to see the production following its premiere in August 2017. He never expected The Divide to be staged, but was delighted at Annabel's interest and supported her desire to adapt and stage the piece. Subsequent to the Edinburgh production, Annabel met Alan, who offered advice on streamlining the adaptation into a single part for its West End premiere at The Old Vic in February 2018. Given the scale of the task in adapting the book, Alan was delighted with the result and the efforts of Annabel and everyone involved with the production.

Could it be adapted to other formats?
Yes. It would particularly suit radio, but the piece is flexible enough to be considered for a variety of different media.

It has been suggested The Divide makes the case that societal norm should be heterosexual following the events of the play.
It really doesn't. That's just an overzealous and - arguably - a disingenuous reading of the piece. The Divide (in all its forms) is explicit that the society which develops after the plague (which renders adult contact between male and female invariably fatal) has been imposed upon the country; same sex relationships become the norm because anything else is both illegal and viewed as deviancy. At the climax of The Divide, when it transpires the plague has died out, it is made clear that society is free to choose whatever relationships it wants. Whilst several of the characters do embrace the heterosexuality which has been denied through their life times, other characters do not and the text explicitly states this at the climax:

"A few of the crowd clustered forward to take a closer look at the statue and then, randomly, a few couples began to mirror it, clasping each other in an echo of the stone figures, pressing their mouths together in intimate and prolonged kisses, Men and Men, Women and Women, Men and Women until there was scarcely an individual figure to be seen anywhere."

The Divide essentially follows the story of Soween and her experiences, just because she chooses a heterosexual lifestyle at the end, it does not mean the author is advocating it alone nor that her choice reflects that of the world at large.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.