Time and the Conways
J B Priestley
Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and Dundee Rep Ensemble
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The Lyceum revives another play from the mid 20th Century and this one is aptly about the passage of time. J B Priestley's play takes a look at the Conway clan in 1919 and then again in 1938. It is however more than just about change over time but about our existence through time.
With its ghostly set of walls that become transparent and furniture melting into walls, the production has just the right feel for Priestley's slightly disturbing but not entirely depressing work. Actors walking behind the screen help to build on the ideas of the play; of memories and lives extending through time.
The cast has the task of appearing as people in 1919, then the same people in 1938 and for added fun the play's third act skips back to see the critical later scenes of that night in 1919. The interesting aspect of this jump was not so much how the characters had aged outwardly which was quite well done, but more their internal changes. How success, but mostly various failures had effected their lives.
Alan Conway (Richard Conlon) and his sister Kay (Emily Winter) add a little extra to this tale of a family in decline. They also add a little hope to the otherwise rather melancholy narrative. The quietly philosophical Alan, endearingly portrayed by Conlon, attempts to explain to his sister, after the 1938 set second act, some optimistic ideas about our existence over time.
The play deals with a family's problems, although one doesn't feel too sorry for the family as a whole. The mother Mrs Conway (Irene Madougall) is overbearing and snobbish, ignorantly wrecking several of her children's chances in life. Some of the less arrogant characters though do elicit sympathy and the play certainly does a good job of raising the subject of how chance and other people affect successes and failures in our lives.
The characters' transitions are done very well especially in terms of personality. Only Alan's character really seems to have changed for the better; most of the others become either more depressed or nastier. None are more nasty than Andy Clark's smug Ernest Beevers taking his revenge on the family who slighted him 19 years early.
The staging in act two does seem rather static, with characters sat around on chairs, and there is also some acting away from the audience. The play though does pick up a lot in the last act and leaves you wanting to know a bit more about the future about the Conways.
A simple, well presented revival of a play about inter-war British decline interlaced with new temporal theories. Worth seeing just to make you think a little.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin