Time and The Conways

Date 6th March 2020
Society The Peakland Players
Venue Hulland War and District Millennium Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Beth Hughes

Report

Author: Joyce Handbury

Time and The Conways is a play written by J. B. Priestley in 1937 which deals with the theories of time and how it is experienced. It follows the fortunes of a moneyed family, the Conways, from 1919 to 1937. Act One of the play is set in 1919 when the Conway family get together to celebrate Kay Conway’s twenty-first birthday. The action is set in the family living-room where the six Conway children and their widowed mother search through costumes and props and prepare their lines before going (off-stage) to perform and play charades to their party guests in another room. We also meet three of the other guests at the party - Joan, Gerald and Ernest. Act Two jumps ahead to Kay’s 40th. birthday when we see the family very differently, where all their hopes have turned to despair and their dreams lie in ruins, where a death in the family, unhappy liaisons and the disclosure of the now nearly worthless Conway fortune turns this birthday party into a volatile family confrontation. Act Three returns to Kay’s twenty-first birthday party and we now see the Conways interacting with family friends and their hopes and dreams for the future are shared - all of which, as is known from Act Two, will not come to pass.

Debbie Ashton-Cleary was excellent as Mrs. Conway. She portrays the two sides of the character superbly, firstly as a talkative socialite, a lover of parties and very much concerned with her family but then in Act 2 we see where her egotistical nature has not only been the cause of her frittering away her money but her more ugly side towards family members comes to the fore. Kay, a would-be novelist who worries about the future, was most sensitively and compellingly played by Mary Driver she too coped with the added years excellently. Her older brother Alan is rather shy, retiring and good natured being more or less happy with his lot. Peter Allan impressively captures most effectively these aspects of Alan and there was a lovely moment between himself and Kay when he philosophises about the theory of time. Madge Conway, the eldest sister, transforms from a vibrant, idealistic socialist to an embittered, headmistress of a girls’ school full of animosity and ill will towards her family and Melanie Ferguson-Alan does justice to both, brilliantly. Hazel, the very glamorous, enthusiastic and seemingly most confident member of the family, who intends to marry well, is pursued by Ernest Beaver whom she does marry as we see in Act Two when he totally dominates and belittles her. Anneliese Bates differentiates between the two characterisations perfectly, a splendid performance. Stuart Nelson gave a very creditable performance as Robin Conway, the younger son who is his mother’s favourite, returning from the war just in time to enjoy the party. I must say that I have never seen anyone ‘stuff’ their face with so much food and still be able to speak his lines - incredible! Unfortunately, for me, he was the only member of the cast who didn’t ‘age’ in his looks when he became a drunken sponger who has deserted his wife and children. What a truly super performance was delivered by Jackie Maltby as Carol Conway, the youngest daughter. She was exuberant, energetic and so bubbly as she dashed around the stage -  a delightful portrayal. Sadly, Carol doesn’t appear in Act Two as she died a couple of years after Kay’s birthday. There were three cast members who were not of the family but were a very integral and essential part of the play. Firstly, Joan Helford, Hazel’s friend who went on to marry Robin which turned out to be a total disaster and here we witness Lizzy Butterfield going from a very pleasant and happy young lady, as Joan, to becoming totally distraught when we see her in Act 2 - again, another fine performance. Andy Brooks, as Ernest Beaver, coped admirably from being quite low key in the beginning to showing his true colours becoming a wealthy, arrogant, brutal and unsympathetic man, particularly concerning the loss of the family fortune. Lastly, Peter Francis Fielding gave a fine performance as Gerald Thornton from being a somewhat awkward young man to being strident, outspoken and very self assured as the family solicitor.  

The living room ‘set’ was very well furnished with excellent props with small changes being made to depict the passage of time for Act Two. The costumes were very much of the period and the changes in outfits combined with differing hairstyles and accessories necessary for Act Two, conveyed very well the fact that time had moved on. The actors delivered excellent performances and congratulations must go to them and to everyone else involved but especially to Beth Hughes, as it was her debut as Director for the company - a job really well done, Beth!