Interview: Stella Powell-Jones on Owners, ‘The writing is, as you might expect, extraordinary.’

Fifty years after it was first staged, a new production of Owners, Caryl Churchill’s wickedly funny first play about power, property, and possession, opens tonight at Jermyn Street Theatre, directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Stella Powell-Jones.

The cast comprises Laura Doddington, Ryan Donaldson, Mark Huckett , Pearl Marsland, Tom Morley, Boadicea Ricketts and Laura Woodhouse.

Powell-Jones returned to Jermyn Street Theatre earlier this year following her 2017-19 tenure as Deputy Director, and her critically acclaimed, Offie nominated production of Sarah Ruhl’s Orlando. Her previous work with us includes directing the European premiere of both Bathsheba Doran’s Parents Evening and Boo Killebrew’s The Play About My Dad , as well as new plays by Jenny Ayres, Emma Harding, Morna Young that responded to Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8:30, under the umbrella title, Tomorrow at Noon.

We spoke with her about the relevance of Owners fifty years after it first opened, and being awe-struck in rehearsals.

Q&A with Stella Powell-Jones

You’re directing Caryl Churchill’s Owners, what can you tell us about the play and your approach to the production?

Owners takes place in London. Marion is a would-be property magnate and hoovering up all the houses she can get her hands on. Including a house in which her “old friends” Alec and Lisa live… Meanwhile Marion’s husband Clegg  daydreams of ways he might get rid of Marion…. It’s a savagely funny play dealing with a group of Londoners and their attempts to ascend  or cling on to the property ladder.  It’s both a farce with jokes and very truthful look at why we are we the way we are…

The writing is, as you might expect, extraordinary. It’s all in the words. And so with the spectacular cast, we’ve worked to find the circumstances that they need all the words. The language is quite muscular and we’ve talked a lot about how they can really use it, how many nooks and crannies there are in every scene.  Cat Fuller’s design works exceptionally hard to make sure we can flit through locations easily.

How relevant are the play’s themes today, and was that relevance one of the main factors in reviving it?

This play is about possession, property and power. People who meet the play for the first time are transfixed by how much its portrait of a society in thrall to home ownership speaks to this current moment. Last autumn, this play was pushed back to the top of my mind, not just due to the relevance of it in a time of a developing housing crisis, but also as one of those plays I could not stop thinking about because it speaks to our human desires for ownership. This is what led to my need to revive it.

How has the rehearsal process been?

I have found myself awe-struck by the talent and dedication shown by the cast and creative team. Much of our staging of the play intertwines with Cat Fuller’s wonderful set of a myriad of doors that open out to create pockets of spaces that the actors navigate. In rehearsals, where of course we are without said set, it’s taken careful thought and imagination from both the brilliant actors and our wonderful Stage Manager Amos Clarke. It’s been a fun challenge to go through with them.

How do you think audiences, who may be more familiar with Churchill’s later work, react to the play?

This play will bring to the forefront Churchill’s amazing knack for dark humour for audiences. They’ll be able to spot other aspects of Churchill’s later work in Owners – such as the British belief systems around possession that we see in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire or elements of Top Girls through the character of Marion.

You’re still in your first year as Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Director – how has the experience been so far?

It has been an honour to work with so many creatives, new emerging artists via our Creatives Programme and our brilliant staff team to produce ambitious and exciting work in our theatre. Jermyn Street Theatre has been an artistic and professional home to me for a long time – ever since my tenure has Carne Deputy Director in 2017 via the Carne Trust. Therefore, coming in every day and working in a place that holds such importance to me feels joyous.

Owners is at Jermyn Street Theatre from 17 October to 11 November