Review – Time and the Conways

February 21, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

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Irene Macdogall, Emily Winter, Jessica Tomchak and Andy Clark in Time and the Conways at the Royal Lyceum Theatre and transfering to Dundee Rep. Photo © Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Irene Macdougall, Emily Winter, Jessica Tomchak and Andy Clark in Time and the Conways at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. Photo © Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Royal Lyceum Theatre
18 Feb – Sat 9 March
Review by Thom Dibdin

Conflicts of class and family are tickled and teased with alluring attention to detail in Jemima Levick’s articulate production of Time and the Conways at the Royal Lyceum and transferring to Dundee Rep.

JB Priestley’s script provides a splendid reminder of what a well-crafted three act play looks like. If his An Inspector Calls has become his best known play in recent times, Levick’s direction justifies his own opinion that Time and the Conways was his finest.

First performed in 1937, when the world was on the brink of  War even if it didn’t know it, the play depicts a well off family in a Northern English industrial town, then and now.

Then, is set in a time of freedom and joy – just after demobilisation following the First World War. That was the Great War: the war to end all wars, after which the world would become a better, more equal place. Or so those who the Conways epitomise, believed.

The now is 1937, when 19 years of depression, unemployment and a general strike have brought all those hopes and aspirations tumbling down.

Central to the family is widower Mrs Conway, played with vibrant force by Irene Macdougall. The opening act takes place on the day of her daughter Kay’s 21st birthday. With her favoured younger son Robin soon to be demobbed, she is able let herself go. All her six children are going to be at home and for once life is to be looked forward to.

The whole play is set in a drab, almost timeless corridor-like room where, in that first act, the family and their assorted hangers on come to get changed for the game of charades taking place in the main party. The party itself is heard as noises off with the occasional strains of Mrs Conway singing for the assembled company.

Richard Conlon, Irene Macdougall and Jessica Tomchak in Time and the Conways at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. Photo © Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Richard Conlon, Irene Macdougall and Jessica Tomchak in Time and the Conways at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. Photo © Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Emily Winter is worth a particular mention as Kay. She draws the focus of attention as needed but is able to guide it onto others, particularly in the second act, set on the day of her 40th birthday.

In terms of creating a portrait of family life, there are excellent performances all round. Sally Reid is wonderfully plum mouthed as the socialist-minded Madge. Jessica Tomchak creates an enthusiastic and unabashed Hazel, the older sister with an eye for a man in uniform.

Molly Vevers has a wide-eyed credulity as the youngest daughter Carol and Martin McBride is all bounding enthusiasm as the blue-eyed boy, Robin.

Of the family, however, it is Richard Conlon who really impresses as Alan Conway. The oldest brother, he is a dithering, inarticulate man desperately trying – and failing – to fill his father’s jacket. But he is almost always on stage, often silent and disappearing into the scenery.

Buy the script:

The hangers on all give great performances too. Andy Clark as the vicious, unappeasable working-class lad come into business Ernest Beevers, Nicola Harrison as Joan, who has suddenly all grown up when Robin returns from way, and Martin McBride as the solid, lawyer whose serious eyes are aimed at one of the daughters.

Levick’s craft is to have brought out the subtleties and nuances of the writing. She never labours a point but, looking back over the play, you can see exactly how well she has set out its elements. And all of her cast are able to bring performances of such emotional engagement that at the very slightest turn of phrase you can leave the theatre loathing them.

This is one of Priestley’s famous “time” plays, in which time and philosophical theories about its passing are used as theatrical techniques. While it is all too easy to become entrapped in the significance of the time references, Levick and her designer Ti Green use them to great effect in their own telling of the play.

A satisfying, emotionally engaging production that speaks from its own time of change to ours.

Running time 2 hours 30 mins
Run ends 9 March.
Royal Lyceum website:

Dundee Rep: Weds 13 – Sat 30 March.

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  1. mark gorman says:

    Great review Thom. I loved this show. The design is outstanding and everything about it is subtle and thought provoking.

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