Review: Time passes in intriguing ways at Stratford's Bear Pit

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Nick Le Mesurier reviews Time and the Conways, presented by Second Thoughts Theatre Company Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford,

Time is a slippery thing. We think of it in terms of before, now and after, but in this, one of J B Priestley’s ‘time plays’, we see that, “Time present and time past”, as T S Eliot wrote, “Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past". Or to put it more simply, what we do now has both causes and consequences, in ways we can hardly guess.

The Conways are a prosperous middle-class family in a Northern town. Mrs Conway (Gill Hines / Shirley Allwork) is queen bee, a matriarch with a nasty sting, who plays her six children off against each other. Acts 1 and 3 are set in 1919. The First World War is just behind them and a bright new era is about to begin. In a game of charades the family’s future is sealed. Marriages are made and lost, futures brokered. Act 2 is set in 1937. Nothing has turned out as planned. Some have prospered, but at a cost. Others have barely survived. One has died. The survivors question their own and each other’s integrity.

In Time and the Conways the action is all in the ways the characters develop. Within this family we see a microcosm of society writ small in the strengths and flaws of their personalities. The gift of the play is that these characters are not mere ciphers but believable as real people, touched by history.

The company brings a difficult, intriguing and deeply rewarding play to full and vibrant life.

* Time and the Conways ran until Saturday April 8. Visit www.thebearpit.org.uk for details of future productions at the theatre.