Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Divide

King's Theatre
Four stars

Everything is black and white in Alan Ayckbourn's new play, a six hour two part epic set in a dystopian future where men and women are segregated from each other following the aftermath of an unspecified plague. Into this landscape, the secret diaries of brother and sister Elihu and Soween are brought to life by Jake Davies and Erin Doherty with a wide-eyed lightness of touch as their hormones get the better of them when they both hit puberty.

Annabel Bolton's production for the Old Vic, EIF and Karl Sydow begins with a TED Talk type lecture that reveals the back story to how things turned out this way. It ends with a sentimental love story designed to tug the heart-strings. Inbetween, there is teenage rebellion aplenty against the regime's institutionalised repression. Liberation comes through art and sex, which, in such extreme circumstances become even greater life forces.

With both plays told through the siblings' diaries alongside assorted court reports, email exchanges and village council meeting minutes, a slow burning elegance permeates Ayckbourn's text, which is illustrated by a series of hi-tech video projections. While what is effectively an onstage box set binge of a play looks to both The Handmaid's Tale and Romeo and Juliet, there is a tenderness and a wit that makes things accessible without undermining the play's serious points.

Leading a cast of thirteen, Doherty is a particular delight as she carries the plays, moving Soween from ages nine to eighteen. Christopher Nightingale's exquisite score, played by a four piece ensemble and sung magnificently by a community choir, gives languid pulse to the old fashioned schmaltz of Ayckbourn's plea for love in troubled times.

The Herald, August 14th 2017

ends

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