Enduring Priestley play retains its appeal

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Time and tide wait for no man . . . and neither will the must-see family drama Time and the Conways, which is on at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday (September 27), writes Tony Spittles.

This enduring work by celebrated writer J. B. Priestley is one of three shows in the Playhouse’s Time and the Memory season this autumn - the others being Propaganda Swing about an American journalist in Berlin in World War II, and Tom Stoppard’s dazzlingly witty Arcadia.

Time and the Conways premiered in London in 1937 (the same year as his I Have Been Here Before, which the Playhouse staged a couple of years ago) and it’s easy to see its continuing attraction and relevance after more than seven decades.

This clever, three-act story opens and closes in 1919 as the well-to-do Conway family, led by matriarch Mrs Conway (Louise Jameson whose TV credits range from Doctor Who and Tenko to Bergerac and EastEnders), gather together to celebrate a birthday party and share their thoughts and hopes for the future ahead.

The ravages that time brings, with ambitions achieved and dreams that turn into nightmares, is poignantly shown in the middle act, set 18 years later, at the brink of World War II as the family argue and accuse each other, whether its about money, relationships or their class arrogance.

Priestley’s neat construction of the “then and now” show how these problems, attitudes and mistakes that have loomed for a generation now seem destined to break up house and home forever.

The divide between the past and present is heightened by an ingenious set from designer Madeleine Girling, which, as the curtain rises, sees family and friends gather to play charades at their 1919 party for daughter Kay (Sian Clifford), showing early promise as an aspiring writer, overseen in the background by what the future holds.

Other Conway siblings getting in the party mood include three other daughters, stand-offish Hazel (Sia Berkeley), politically aware Madge (Pascale Burgess) and free spirit Carol (Rosie Jones), and two sons, dull but reliable Alan (Edward Harrison) and Robin (Mark Edel-Hunt) back from the war and aiming to make his fortune in “civvy street.”

Strong support was given by family friend Joan Helford (Olivia Onyehara) who marries Robin for better and then worse; Ian Meredith as long-serving family solicitor Gerald Thornton whose attention to financial detail was not as focused as that sent out by Madge as she made a bid to capture his affections, and Scott Turnbull as Ernest Beevers, a blunt, self-made businessman who marries into the family, but does little to help when cash problems hit hard.

The Time and Memory season continues with Propaganda Swing by Peter Arnott from October 3-18, followed by Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia from October 31-November 15.

Further details of tickets for all three productions, ranging from £9.50 to £28.50, and showtimes, can be obtained from the Playhouse box office on 0115 941 9491, or at www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk