Sir Alan Ayckbourn tries his hand at the dystopian trend in his latest play, The Divide. As the flagship show of this year’s International Festival, understandably, I had high expectations for the two part, six hour long epic. I even went so far as to book myself in for the full whammy, all six hours in one long day, such was my excitement.

Sadly, these hopes were not realised.

In the future world of The Divide, the population has been slashed by a disease that is fatal to men and carried by women. As a result, the genders are segregated, and a Handmaid’s Tale-style policing is enforced on the women, who are dressed in swathes of black and must wear full face visors around men to avoid infection. The story is told back to us from a further future, post-Divide era, via the diaries of brother and sister, Elihu and Soween, and local council minutes.

Erin Doherty holds all 360 minutes of dense production on her shoulders: as Soween she is charismatic, grounded and equally sympathetic and funny in an especially human performance. She tethers the whole performance and becomes my touchstone: as long as she is onstage, how wrong can it really go? However, the reason for the outrageous running time quickly becomes apparent as reams of flabby narrative makes itself known. A drawn out storyline following Soween’s bullying at school becomes repetitive and adds little to the overall plot, and juvenile dialogue gives away Ayckbourn’s original plan to employ the story as a young adult novel. Luckily, Doherty’s performance – both in its heart-wrenching moments of victimhood and it’s dryly comic moments of repressed anger – makes this tangent bearable, even if it is wholly unnecessary.

Okay, so far, nothing special, but despite the bloated writing, maybe it’ll work as an overly detailed but important contextual companion piece to the part two. Maybe.

Read our review of The Divide Part 2

Words: Chiara Margiotta

The Divide Part 1, Kings Theatre, Aug 8-20 (not 9, 10, 14), times vary

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