Time and the Conways

August 9, 2009

Saw this show at the National the other day, and although i’ve never written a review before, there are some thoughts I’d like to share. (Spoilers ahead)

Overall, I was quite impressed by the acting. Playing old people is something I’ve done a bit of this year, and so it was interesting to see the actors handle playing the same characters in their 20s and then in their 40s. There was a mix of quite bold characterisation on the one hand, particularly from Hattie Morahan and Mark Dexter, compared to the the more subtle performances of say Paul Ready or Alistair Petrie and I think the latter was on the whole more succesful; the play itself isn’t exactly subtle, so I think it needed that grounding that some of the performers gave it. Saying that, I found the first appearance of the older Kay (Hattie Morahan) incredibly sad: just seeing the effect that time had had on the enthusiastic young girl of act 1, turning her into a bitter, cynical, self-loathing Thatcher-alike of act 2 had quite an effect on me.

The main problem I had with the play was its structure. I didn’t have a problem with the central device of showing the same family at different points in their history – it’s a familiar device today but I wasn’t expecting it from a JB Priestley play and so was pleasantly surprised. I went along with it, enjoying the acting and the changing characters, but once we’d been introduced to all the characters again, the play just ran out of steam, treading over the same ground and drawing out the ending. And the 3rd act, which returned us to the earlier time period, was far too long and filled with far too much sledgehammer dramatic irony and very few things we didn’t already know.

And the production itself was odd. This was the fourth Rupert Goold show i’ve seen, and with each one I become less impressed. The thing which made Macbeth so fantastic – namely a strong concept for the production which served and gave new meaning to the play – seems to have faded to a few tacked-on theatrical gimmicks. For ‘Six Characters’ the crazy tricks worked, because it is a crazy kind of play; for King Lear some of the ideas worked, some didn’t, because they didn’t make any sense to either the production or the play. But here, we have a pretty bog-standard drawing room affair with some theatrical gimmickry at the end of each act. Yes, they look good, but what are they adding to the play? Not much, I would argue.

So, in summary: a bizarre production of a dated, overlong and clunky play was saved by some solid performances. Which was enough for me to enjoy for the most part.