BWW Review: THE DIVIDE, Old Vic

BWW Review: THE DIVIDE, Old Vic

The Old Vic's The Divide is a gripping tale of repression and forbidden love in a dystopian society. This new play from Alan Ayckbourn is told in diary entries from sister and brother Soween and Elihu. Annabel Bolton, an Associate Director at the Old Vic, brings this beautiful piece first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2017 to life, combining sound, projections, and brilliant acting.

BWW Review: THE DIVIDE, Old VicThe Divide imagines a world in which men and women are segregated into two societies, separated by "the Divide", the geographical line between them. The play is structured as a glimpse at an older Soween's recently published memoir, looking back on the oppressive society of her youth.

The piece follows the siblings through school, friend troubles, and failed relationships in their adolescent years. It highlights Soween's love for the banned Bronte novels and Elihu's attempts as a budding artist despite living in a society that condemns all images of people.

In this imagined world a hundred years in the future, a plague broke out which sparked a civil war and almost wiped out humankind. Women still carry the plague but are immune to it themselves, making them dangerous to the vulnerable men. The illusive Preacher's work teaches that women are sinful and alcohol, jazz music, and mirrors are banned for them. Men and women are kept separate to promote peace and prevent the spread of disease.

In this society, gay relationships abound and children are raised by a Mama (the woman who carries the baby) and a Mapa (the other mother). At times this concept seemed to veer on heteronormativity, with each different mother taking on a traditionally gendered role. However, it was interesting to watch a world in which a heterosexual relationship was considered strange and risky.

Erin Doherty shines as the somewhat awkward, but earnest Soween. She perfectly captures the spirit of a girl in her early teen years and brings across a genuineness that's reminiscent of Saoirse Ronan. Jake Davies is similarly endearing as Elihu and portrays the torment of growing up and having a sexual awakening brilliantly.

Both Soween and Elihu fall for a girl from a radical family called Giella, played by Weruche Opia. Her portrayal is strong, especially in the court room scenes towards the end of the piece which are simply heart wrenching. Another standout performance is by Richard Katz as Elihu's tutor Rudgrin who unloads his own problems onto his young pupil.

The sound and projection design, by Bobby Aitken and Ash J Woodward respectively, are stunning. The projections are the best that I've seen since War Horse in the way that they weave drawings, diary entries, and school essays. The waterfall projection was especially lovely. The sound combines effects, scoring, and a choir seemingly effortlessly.

The costumes for The Divide play an integral part in building the dystopian society. The adult men are dressed all in white, a symbol of their purity, while the women are dressed in black puritanical dresses and bonnets that are like that of The Handmaid's Tale.

When in mixed gender company, adults wear "visors" or flesh coloured masks over their faces that seem like something out of a nightmare. The outfits are clearly dystopian, without being outlandish, and have a familiarity to them that is haunting. One of the most poignant scenes in the whole play is when Soween gets dressed in her adult clothing for the first time.

Somehow, despite its four-hour length, The Divide never drags or has a dull moment both because the production is so visually interesting and because the actors are so engaging. It is a chilling piece about government regulation, gender relations, and what people will do for love that is a little too believable to be comfortable.

The Divide is on at the Old Vic until 10 February

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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From This Author Nicole Ackman

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