Time and the Conways @ Nottingham Playhouse

 “But the point is, now, at this moment, or any moment, we’re only cross-sections of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us – the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we’ll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream…”

The Nottingham Playhouse is entering a new season, themed ‘Time and Memory’, which promises a range of thought provoking productions. Time and the Conways, the first offering in this series, provides a probing exploration into the themes of class and social history. It’s a significant production in light of the approaching centenary of World War I. However, it also strikes a chord on a very personal level and I would definitely advise viewing for any student wondering how their insignificant choices might pan out later in life.

 There’s an element of slowly decaying grandeur to it, which proves to be prophetic.

As suggested in the title, the theme of time is central. The action takes place on two nights twenty years apart. First is the Conway household on a joyful night in 1919, as aspiring novelist Kay – competently handled by Sian Clifford- celebrates her birthday. Their frolics and festivities are contrasted in Act Two when Kay experiences a harrowing vision of the Conway family’s future. A rich and disturbing story unfolds, complemented by a wonderfully haunting staging.

As the script demands, it’s a simple set, but one that Madeline Girling has done an outstanding job with. There’s an element of slowly decaying grandeur to it, which proves to be prophetic. Behind the main action a shimmering gauze backdrop reveals fragments from the past and future. Admittedly, in a few places this does distract, but during a speech by Alan about the nature of time, the decision is justified.ASC_1273[1]

This being said, however, it’s certainly not a performance you’d want to be distracted from, with Rosie Jones shining as Carol. She radiates a kindness and positivity that is incredibly genuine, amongst some acting that just occasionally descends into caricature. Sia Berkely is terribly funny as Hazel, but does at times seem a little over the top. For the most part, however, the acting is superb. Edward Harrison as Alan brought to mind something of Martin Freeman’s self-deprecating but likeable charm. Harrison’s Alan is philosophical without being snobbishly intellectual, quiet and thoughtful. But it’s not all doom and gloom with a play which raises some distressing ideas, as the cast have a brilliant chemistry and plenty of laughs are provided.

It’s a wonderful production and highly advised viewing- the Playhouse setting the bar high for the coming season.

Director Fiona Buffini has acknowledged that one of Priestley’s greatest strengths as a dramatist is his ability to write characters effectively. Certainly, this is play with many characters that could easily be considered unbearable- and yet, for my part, I found myself forgiving as opposed to judging. No matter how awful their behavior, the characters all have a certain charm, because in visiting them in two key moments in their lives we are able to imagine why they are what they are, even if we don’t always see how they get there.

It’s a strong script and the production does it justice, leaving the viewer unable to walk away without some serious reflections. This is true especially of the finale, which is unsettling and doesn’t leave the audience feeling particularly optimistic. At times it seems to have been created with the dubious benefit of 21st century hindsight and it’s important to remember it was written pre-World War II. But if not optimistic in outlook, it certainly should remind us that, as Carol aptly declares, ‘the point is to live’ regardless of the state of the times. Overall, it’s a wonderful production and highly advised viewing- the Playhouse setting the bar high for the coming season.

Nicole Jones 


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