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Owners (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Owners

Society: London (professional shows)

Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre. 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST

Credits: Caryl Churchill



3 stars

Photo: Steve Gregson

This early (1972) Caryl Churchill play hasn’t had many outings over the years which is a pity because it’s sharp, very funny and remains topical – in a country in which property ownership is still, for many, life’s ultimate goal.

Clegg (Mark Huckett), a butcher, is fed up with his property tycoon wife, Marion (Laura Doddington) and fantasises about killing her. Alec (Ryan Donaldson) and Lisa (Boadicea Ricketts), with whom relations are doubly complicated, are her tenants. Worsley (Tom Morley) works for Marion and Clegg. Also in the mix, in much smaller roles, are Alec’s mother (Pearl Marsland) who has dementia and Mrs Arlington, a neighbour (Laura Woodhouse). What evolves from this is a dark – there’s a lot about death – comedy which explores ownership in every sense.

Now let me get this out of the way first. I do not find dementia-based comedy remotely funny and although the audience responded with gales of laughter I was distinctly unamused by the scene in which Pearl Marsland’s pitiful character attempts to make tea. Surely, in this age of much greater Alzheimer’s awareness, this could have been toned down rather than hammed up?

Otherwise this is an engaging 135 mins of theatre featuring some good performances. Doddington gives us a magnificently rounded Marion, outrageously used to getting her own way but also with unfulfilled needs and desires – which don’t include her ghastly husband. There’s fine work too from Tom Morley whose Worsley is hilariously deadpan and lugubrious. He has tried and failed to die by suicide so often that it has become a joke as he sustains more and more injuries – or maybe not, come to think of it, for anyone who has actually had to deal with suicide in someone close to them.

Cat Fuller’s design is delightful and very neat in Jermyn Street’s small space. She gives us a crescent of front doors, all different, to connote property and its importance. Some moveable items slide in and out of a hole where meters would be between two houses. Alec and Lisa’s bed emeges, like a drawer, from the air vent beneath two doors. Her 1970s costumes are lovely too – “expensive” brightly coloured outfits for Marion, simple plain dresses for Lisa and a tweedy brown suit for Worsley.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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