Embarking on a journey through time between World Wars

Time and the Conways

Time and the Conways - Credit: Archant

Changing times - in more ways than one - are at the heart of the Company of Ten’s production of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

The family drama and fascinating portrait of Britain between the wars, was inspired by the writer J.W. Dunne’s theory that all time takes place simultaneously, and in certain circumstances.

So while the first and last acts of the play follow the six Conway siblings at a family birthday party in 1919, the middle act gives a glimpse of the future that awaits them in 1938.

From a theatrical perspective, the need to convey a seamless change from one point in time to the next – on the same set and with the same cast – posed specific challenges. But rather than keep the changes hidden from view, director Mark Waghorn has made a feature of them.

He explained: “As Acts I and II both take place in the first half, the easiest solution would have been to bring down the tabs and change the set behind the scenes.

“But we wanted to convey the dream-like state in which Priestley and Dunne believed it was possible to see into the future. So instead of using black-clad stagehands, our set is changed by our actors, moving at half-speed and silhouetted against a blue light.

“Furniture is rearranged, curtains are flown in, and pictures and soft furnishings are replaced, as we move from the optimism of 1919 – reflected by soft edges and warm, bright colours – to the austere, foreboding atmosphere of 1938, which is harder, duller and greyer.”

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It is not only the set that changes. Mark said: “All but one of our cast is playing different versions of the same person almost 20 years apart, which is a real test of skill.

“While costumes and hairstyles help to reflect the changes in their characters’ age and circumstances, the actors also have to consider how the passing of time will have affected the way they move and speak.

“Interestingly, some of our actors are closer in age to the younger version of their character, while others are closer in age to the older version. I think it is testament to their ability that, when watching them together on stage, you wouldn’t notice.”

Performances are at 8pm tomorrow and Saturday and at 2.30pm this Sunday, February 8. In addition there are 8pm performances from next Tuesday, February 10, until Saturday, February 14.

To book tickets go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.