Liam Rudden: Ayckbourn’s The Divide a dystopian Must See

The Divide Part 1 & Part 2 - The Old Vic / EIFl 2017

The Divide Part 1 & Part 2 - The Old Vic / EIFl 2017

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THE 70th Edinburgh International Festival launched this week with its usual fanfare and, as always, I turned immediately to the theatre section of the little yellow book to see what ‘Must See’ show Fergus Linehan has lined up for us come August.

There’s always one; something that leaps from the page just begging to be seen.

In the past an eclectic mix of productions have grabbed my attention. Most lived up to expectations, some soared, others spluttered along.

Highlights recalled fondly include the year the Variety Theatre of Gibraltar inhabited the old drill hall on Dalmeny Street with the wonderfully outrageous and inventive Nuts CocoNuts - Barcelona director Jordi Milan’s answer to the Moulin Rouge in 2005.

Alan Cumming’s turn in The Bacchae in 2007 too sticks in the memory, perhaps more because it was homecoming of sorts than because of the production itself.

In 2008 it was Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray, based on Oscar Wilde’s 1891 Gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, that was the ‘Must See’.

Set in the image-obsessed world of contemporary art and politics, Bourne’s ‘London It Boy’ didn’t disappoint.

Five years on, Grid Iron’s site-specific promenade piece Leaving Planet Earth tempted - it involved theatre-goers leaving Old Earth, crossing galaxies and traversing light years (in a bus!) to arrive at New Earth (the International Climbing Centre at Ratho!).

All great fun and every bit as bonkers as Nuts CocoNuts nearly a decade before.

2014 saw Rona Munro’s James Plays premiere at the EIF and afforded a chance to spend a whole day in the Festival Theatre watching three history plays back to back.

There’s an element of the latter two in The Divide, Part 1 & Part 2, the production topping my 2017 Hit List.

Co-produced with The Old Vic, The Divide sees Alan Ayckbourn’s newest work receive its World Premiere at The King’s.

A darkly satirical love story presented in two parts, don’t expect The Divide to be another Ayckbourn middle-class comedy of manners.

Set 100 years in the future, society has been decimated by a deadly contagion.

Contact between male and female is fatal. Forcibly separated, men wear white, a mark of purity, and women, who are still infected, wear black as a sign of their sin.

Brother and sister Elihu and Soween grow up in a small town devastated by disease, learning the ways of the closely monitored society around them.

But when Elihu falls for the daughter of two radical mothers, he risks not only fatal disease but also igniting a bloody revolution.

Described as examining a ‘dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection’ it sounds very different to Ayckbourn favourite’s such as Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests.

All we need to know now is the casting, which, of course, could change everything.

That said, knowing The Old Vic, they won’t let us down... will they?