Time And The Conways
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Until March 9;
transferring to Dundee Rep, March 13-30
Second Coming/Winter, Again
Seen at Dundee Rep;
touring until May 29
Reviewed by Mark Brown
From Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg to Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen) and, most recently, English television dramatist Stephen Poliakoff (Dancing On The Edge), we seem to have lost none of our fascination for watching the carefully constructed image of the bourgeois family unravelling before our eyes. J.B. Priestley’s Time And The Conways (currently receiving a faithful co-production by Dundee Rep and the Lyceum) is in a similar vein.
The piece is coloured – like Priestley’s most famous drama, An Inspector Calls – by the author’s Fabian socialism. It charts the shifting fortunes of the seemingly impregnable Conway family as, in the aftermath of the death of its patriarch, it is buffeted by the First World War, the General Strike, the Wall Street Crash and the bare knuckle economics of a nouveau riche breed of capitalist.
Shifting forward and back, between 1919 and 1937, it is a sturdy, some might say dated, well made play. Dundee Rep joint artistic director Jemima Levick has fashioned a production which rises, but rarely soars (although just how high Priestley’s drama is capable of soaring is a moot point).
Designer Ti Green’s deadening, grey, Magritte-esque set (in which a table emerges from a wall, as if appearing through a cloud) has an evanescence which is appropriate to the uncertainty of the Conways’ fortunes. Jessica Tomchak (as the once carefree beauty Hazel Conway) and Martin McBride (the disastrously favoured son, Robin) give strong performances in the midst of a largely accomplished cast, but there is such an inherent restraint (emotionally, intellectually and politically) within the play itself that one can’t help but feel that it is a somewhat conservative choice for the 21st-century stage.
There’s little sign of conservatism in Second Coming/Winter, Again, the new double bill from Dundee Rep’s resident sister company Scottish Dance Theatre. It is difficult to imagine a more distinct contrast between two modern dance pieces than exists here, between the works of Los Angeles’s choreographer Victor Quijada and his Norwegian counterpart Jo Strømgren.
Quijada’s piece combines a series of metatheatrical (and not very funny) jokes – about a supposed series of disasters in the theatre, an injury to a dancer etc. – with a dance style and a musical score which are observably influenced by US street culture. Competing solos, confrontational choreography and the clash between hip hop and European classical musics sometimes make the piece seem like a postmodern West Side Story.
Often physically virtuosic, the work has its moments of tension, vulnerability, pathos and poignancy. Frustratingly, however, these are overwhelmed by its self-ironising postmodernism, which not only irritates, but also (in the passages of speech) reminds us that dancers are not actors.
Strømgren (who is remembered fondly by many Edinburgh Fringe goers for pieces such as The Hospital and The Convent) is a very different proposition from Quijada. In Winter, Again, mud-spattered people emerge from an abstracted forest in which (Chekhov-style) a seagull has been shot. It is the first of a series of animals to die in the midst of a lost, disorientated and fearful chorus which is reminiscent of the wretched characters of Maurice Maeterlinck’s play The Blind.
By turns bleakly comic and beautifully sensual, the piece is performed to exquisite Schubert lieder. Subtly emotive, it is considerably more substantial than its companion piece.
For Scottish Dance Theatre tour dates, visit: http://www.scottishdancetheatre.com
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 3, 2013
© Mark Brown