Theatre review: Time and the Conways, Lyceum Theatre

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SCIENTISTS have this week predicted the end of the universe and, more cheeringly, its likely rebirth, which makes JB Priestley’s 1937 play a surprisingly topical musing on the nature of time and humanity.

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As well as non-linear theories of time, Time And The Conways also covers crushed post-war idealism, recession, austerity, another impending war, lessons ignored, assorted family tragedies and the vapidity of celebrity journalism. Timeless, in other words.

It is heady, meaty stuff that needs skilful staging, deft direction and big performances to bring out the human drama and give resonance and meaning to the big ideas. All of that is delivered here, making for a highly satisfying, engaging and emotional piece of theatre.

All of the cast deserve mentions in an excellent ensemble, but particular credit goes to the three cornerstone characters; Irene McDougall as the flawed matriarch (well, actually, everyone is flawed, but her flaws have the greatest repercussions over time), Emily Winter as Kay, the main emotional narrative conduit and Richard Conlon’s understated, benign stillness as Alan.

The action itself is not entirely linear, starting in 1919 at Kay’s 21st birthday party, skipping to her rather less happy 40th and back again for the closing scenes. There is a huge imbalance between the duration of the first and second ‘halves’.

Partly a practical staging thing, but the audience’s perception of time is played with to some extent, especially as the 1937 scenario gets sadder and darker and bleaker and you know you’re past halfway and you must be due a break but it just doesn’t come until Alan, the now middle-aged, underachieving clerk, casually unpicks the nature of time through the poetry of William Blake.

It remains a thought-provoking piece, wonderfully well carried in this production. These Conways are well worth a moment of your time.

• Runs until 9 March