Time and the Conways is a play by JB Priestley, written in 1937. I am not familiar with Priestley’s work apart from the famous An Inspector Calls. So I had no idea of what I was letting myself in for, when I attended last Saturday’s performance of the play at the Dundee Rep. It turned out to be a most enjoyable and rewarding experience. As the title might suggest, the passage of time plays an important role in the drama. We begin in 1919 in the Conway’s family home in Yorkshire. The Conways are a prosperous well to do family with four daughters and two sons and the occasion is the 21st birthday of Kay, one of the daughters. The war is over and this is a kind of family celebration. Life is looking good and hope is in the air. A slight discordant note is the presence of Ernest Beevers, who has taken a fancy to Hazel, another of the Conway daughters. Ernest however, is a down to earth industrialist, not quite of the same social class as the Conways.
The second act is in the same room, but it is now 19 years later and how the world has changed! Especially for the Conways. All the hopes of 1919 have been shattered. Carol, the lively and vivacious youngest daughter is dead. Nobody has really succeeded. The family is now on the verge of bankruptcy after years of mismanagement of their inheritance. The lovely Kay has married Ernest, but he is a brute and a bully. This family get together is full of bitterness and despair.
The big surprise comes with the third act, when we are once again back in 1919, just seconds after the end of the first act. The hopes, aspirations and idealism which fired the young Conways is even more pronounced than in the first act. As is the latent snobbery, especially from the mother. The seeds of future discord and disappointment become all the more glaring from having seen a glimpse into their future.
Time and the Conways is still a remarkable play and its exposée of the fissures in post world war 1 society just as vibrant now as then. This was a joint production between the Dundee Rep and the Edinburgh Lyceum. In an excellent cast, two Dundee stalwarts had key roles, Irene Macdougall as the mother and Emily Winter as Kay. Most of the rest would be from the Lyceum. The cast also included two newcomers to the Rep, Martin McBride and Molly Vevers. Both were very good and I look forward to seeing more of them on the stage in the months to come. This production run is over, but if you ever get the chance to see a version of Time and the Conways, take it.