Divided, a one-night play, was performed on International Women’s Day (8th March) as part of FemFest, a week of events run by the Minotaur Theatre Company that celebrates women within and outside of the company. Co-directed by writer Ella Dorman-Gajic and Katy Malony, Divided tells the story of two couples, one in 1947 post-war Britain and one in the present day. The play intertwines these two separate narratives, focusing on the female characters and exploring issues of sexuality, empowerment, reproductive rights and female autonomy to create a powerful and poignant story.
The play opens simply: one of the lead characters, Sally (Jess Lester), sways gently to 1940’s music, playing with her silk scarf. She tells the audience about her whirlwind romance with her husband John (Seb Fear), who frequently interrupts her as he slowly becomes aggressive due to shellshock. With her husband unemployed, Sally takes a job as a waitress at a local club, suffering the wandering eyes and hands of the male clients in order to provide for them both. As bills stack up, Sally turns to sex work to provide money – money which her husband then spends on the exact same thing.
In contrast, aspiring model Beth (Nyree Williams) flips her hair and bends herself over a solitary plastic chair so her friend and classmate Adam (Matthew King) can take photos for her modelling portfolio in the present day. Beth’s part in this story is, at first, comic, but soon enough her story begins to darken as she too is lured into a situation that she isn’t comfortable with.
The actors were a perfect fit for the roles. Jess Lester and Nyree Williams, especially, delivered impassioned and emotional performances that left me nearly in tears by the end of the play. Completely believable in their roles, their strongest moments, for me, were when they were each alone on the stage. With all the focus on them, their performances had to be brilliant – which, of course, they were.
With the stage bare of any kind of set apart from two chairs, and only one of them being used frequently, the use of costumes and lighting was instrumental in setting the scene for the audience. Sally’s scenes were bathed in soft yellow light, like when an old black and white photograph takes on a yellowish tint, whereas Beth’s story was told under harsh white light, like she was constantly under the glare of a photographer’s lamp. For me, this worked extremely well; it lent an intimacy to Sally’s most harrowing scenes, whilst in turn making Beth’s situation seem even more stressful.
Despite the heavy subject material, Ella Dorman-Gajic gives the play a hopeful ending – one that, for me, placed an emphasis on the importance of women supporting each other and being supported in turn. This play was perfect for International Women’s Day.