The Divide at the Old Vic Theatre
Alan Ayckbourn’s massive dystopian play The Divide, directed by Annabel Bolton, is a turbulent marathon about a future world in which misogyny rules and the sexes are segregated, as women carry a contagion that is fatal to men.
Set a century ago, this Handmaid’s Tale meets Romeo and Juliet type saga presents a classic sci-fi theme of a post-apocalyptic era in which the desperate need for survival predominates, and sentimentality is unacceptable. Following the principles of a tome called the Book of Certitude, infected by a plague, women are deemed sinful and heterosexual contact deadly and forbidden. In a society that is prudish to the extreme – in which a female uncovered in front of a male will be killed – art is considered pornographic and make-up, feminine clothes and mirrors are taboo – even colour is not allowed, as is reflected in the monochrome stage set and costumes.
Curiously and paradoxically, although the piece appears initially to celebrate homosexuality, at the first opportunity, gayness is willingly abandoned for heterosexuality, implying that not only is sexual orientation a choice but that straight love is the better one – as here the former only exists because the latter is prohibited.
Told from the point of view of a teenage Soween (Erin Doherty) and Elihu (Jake Davies) in the form of diaries, the tale reveals a struggle of illicit love between Elihu and Soween’s friend and romantic crush Giella (Weruche Opia) – hence a love triangle. With poignant acting, Doherty’s excellent portrayal of the optimistic Soween is thoughtful and charming; Davies is outstanding as the sweet, innocent Elihu, and Opia’s performance as Giella is convincing and engaging.
Costuming is essential in creating atmosphere: men wear protective garb, white like medical staff, implying a sterilised state; women are clothed in puritanical black dresses reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Likewise, lighting is exceptional, creating smooth transitions, image and word projections, simulations such as a waterfall, and the highlighting of characters’ emotions. The futuristic stage design by Laura Hopkins is evocative. Christopher Nightingale’s music – as a four-piece orchestra and ethereal choir – is outstanding and uplifting.
Although the work is long, the general theme has been done before, and the portrayal of homosexuality as merely a secondary option is very questionable, The Divide is highly innovative and imaginative in terms of style and presentation. An impressive, moving, thought-provoking production, it is worth a viewing.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Divide is at the Old Vic Theatre from 1st until 10th February 2018, for further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Divide here: