Carly Churchill looks upon Owners, now revived at Jermyn Street Theatre, as a watershed in her life. It was her first play to be professionally produced on stage. That was at the Royal Court in 1972. Thereafter she said, “I've worked almost entirely in the theatre. So my working life feels divided quite sharply into before and after 1972, and Owners was the first play of the second part”.

Its themes resonate with our own times and its critique is still valid

We all know the catalogue of plays that followed over decades of writing. At the time of her being yet another new writer, Owners had a mixed reception. E. Kyle Minor described it as an "intermittently interesting and otherwise tedious" play. In hindsight Sylviane Gold of The New York Times stated that Churchill "had yet to achieve the formal mastery that would make later plays like Cloud Nine and Top Girls instant modernist classics”. Gold went on to say in the New York Times that Churchill's "acidic critique of capitalist freebooters and the culture that worships them as heroes carries even more resonance today than it did in 1972”. That was written in 2013. It could easily be said today.

The property and rental prices we hear from this period in themselves raise a laugh, but then wages were also a fraction of today’s. What hasn’t changed is the crisis in accommodation and the money-grabbing and often manipulative, coercive or even bullying tactics of some property owners towards their tenants. Cue the cold and calculating Marion (Laura Doddington) who is anxious to sell a property for which she has buyer offering her a very good price. She has a problem because there are sitting tenants who occupy a damp-ridden flat on the top floor. Lisa (Boadicea Ricketts) and Alec (Ryan Donaldson) already have two children with a third expected any time. Alec has no intention of leaving, for reasons that are unclear, rather like his motives for all aspects of his behaviour. It would probably be just too much trouble and in any case he seems to enjoy indolence and stubbornness. Lisa, meanwhile is up for moving on especially as Marion is prepared to offer a cash incentive for doing so. Marion doesn’t soil her hands by dealing directly with the tenants but instead uses her sidekick, Worsely (Tom Morley) to do her dirty work. Having had an affair with Alec, she still lusts after him, further complicating the situation.

He is a dead-pan suicidal misfit who gets on very well with her husband, Clegg (Mark Huckett), who in turn is obsessed with homicidal thoughts towards his wife whilst being a lecherous, porn-watching misogynist. There's a parallel between his view of women and his wife's take on houses; both are property to be used. As a butcher he has all the tools at his disposal, but considers a Sweeney Todd pie-shop scenario a bit too blatant for her demise. Between them, in bouts of black comedy, they conjure up various means of murder and suicide. Into this mix are thrown further sexual self-seeking adventures, hypocrisy, deceit and double-dealing.

In a play centred around property, Cat Fuller’s set of nine doors is focussed and remarkably well-fitted onto the confined stage. The direction by Stella Powell-Jones, however, is often static and rather flat, often leaving the universally talented cast grouped in fixed positions to deliver the wordy script, even when space is available for movement. It is their ability of to create fascinating characters that forms the production's strength.

Owners is piece of theatre history and this is rare opportunity to see it staged. It might be rooted in the period but its themes resonate with our own times and its critique is still valid.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Multiple Venues

Far From Home Close To Love

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Laughing Boy


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The Blurb

Her husband wants her dead, but Marion’s too busy to notice. With the London housing market booming, she spots a chance to make a killing of her own by flipping a house. There’s just one problem – the current tenants are her closest friends. Undeterred, she hatches a plan and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. A deal is done, and an exchange is made. But is the price worth paying?

Fifty years on from its premiere, Artistic Director Stella Powell-Jones directs this timely revival of Caryl Churchill’s wickedly funny first play about power, property, and possession.

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