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I have to confess I wasn’t looking forward to this. It wasn’t received well at the Edinburgh Festival last August, when it was in two parts with a total playing time of 5.5 hours. The anticipation of even one part at just over four hours filled me with dread. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much!

It’s set in a future where men and women are segregated after a plague which killed many men. They believe the women are infected carriers. Same sex partnerships have, by necessity, become the norm and in their half of The Divide the women partner with one another as MaMa and MaPa, the former having children by some form of artificial insemination. Male children are sent to the other half of the divide when they come of age. There is a governing council with three parties whose names speak for themselves – orthodox, moderate and progressive – ruled by the Book of Certitude. The story revolves around the orthodox Clay family, and in particular brother and sister Elihu and Soween, told in flashback by the latter reading her teenage diary which goes on become a book, but its Elihu who threatens the equilibrium of this dystopian state when he falls in love with Giella, the daughter of progressives, whom his sister has already identified as her future life partner.

There was too much talking direct to the audience at the expense of character interaction, but given it was written in prose as a diary / memoir, that’s not surprising. The staging is well paced and it didn’t feel like 3.5 hours playing time; in fact, it felt shorter than last week’s marathons, John and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Annabel Bolton’s production is full of invention, with great use of projections and curtains, and has an organic flow to it. At first I found the black / white palette a bit dull, but I warmed to it. The big surprise was a live ensemble and 26-piece choir and Christopher Nightingale’s music added much to the feel of the piece.

The role of Soween is huge and Erin Doherty, who has already impressed me three times in the last year, is sensational, investing an extraordinary amount of emotion into her performance. Jake Davies as Elihu and Weruche Opia as Giella are also terrific, with a fine ensemble who have learnt their parts for an unfathomably short run of ten days.

It owes something to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaidens Tale and it’s the most un-Ayckbourn of Ayckbourn plays, which wasn’t even meant to be a play. It’s a cry for tolerance and a rage against fundamentalism, much lighter than you might think, and an evening I wasn’t looking forward to became a very pleasant surprise indeed.

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Less than half the c.50 plays I’ve seen in London this year have been new (I can’t wait for Edinburgh to restore the balance). Of the revivals many were definitely worth reviving – from Shakespeare (the Almeida’s Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Rose in Kingston) through Miller (The Open Air’s Crucible and All My Sons in the West End) to The Beauty Queen of Leenane just last Saturday at the Young Vic…..but I would question whether both the Buckner at the NT on Friday and this last night at the Donmar deserve it.

This early 19th century German play centres on a dreamy young prince who becomes a war hero but because he doesn’t strictly follow his orders finds himself in deep trouble. By the interval, though it had held my attention, I was thinking ‘so?’. The second half was much better as the debate about his reasons and the rights and wrongs unfolds. It’ OK, but just OK, and not in my view good enough to see it replace better revivals or new work from the London stage.

Simply but elegantly staged and well acted, it’s hard to fault the production but hard to justify all the effort.

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