Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Stella Powell-Jones: Owners 

By | Published on Friday 13 October 2023

The latest production to go up at Jermyn Street Theatre is a timely revival of a play by the great Caryl Churchill, whose work I’m sure you’ll all be well aware of. ‘Owners’, her first play, is a dark and witty piece set in developing 1970s London that focuses on its characters’ desire for property and ownership.

Stella Powell-Jones, Artistic Director of Jermyn Street, is the director of the show, so I thought it would be great to catch up about what to expect from the venue in the months ahead, as well as to find out more about ‘Owners’ and the creative team behind it.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Owners’ is all about? What story does it tell?
SP-J: ‘Owners’ takes place in a developing area of North London in the early 1970s. Marion is a would-be property tycoon and, with the assistance of her devoted lieutenant Worsely, is hoovering up all the houses she can get her hands on… including the house in which Alec and Lisa currently rent a room.

Alec and Lisa are ‘old friends’ of Marion’s. Meanwhile Marion’s husband Clegg dreams of doing her in. The play is at once a farce of Londoners trying to scale, or cling on to, the property ladder and probes why we do the things we do…

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
SP-J: Well to start with the obvious, owning things – property yes, but more largely what – and who – else do we want to own? Who’s allowed to own what? What’s for sale?

CM: I think our readers will mostly know about Caryl Churchill, but can you tell us a bit about her?
SP-J: Ooh I don’t know what I can say about Caryl that hasn’t been said. But, ‘Owners’ was her first play. And all these years later, it still roars with all the verve and thrill of a new play.

CM: It’s been fifty years since the play was first staged – in what ways is it relevant for today’s audiences?
SP-J: Well the topic of Londoners and the farcical situation of London and property could hardly feel more relevant. If it wasn’t for the prices, you could probably believe the play was set now…

CM: What made you decide to stage the play? What do you love about it?
SP-J: It’s a big sprawling play that marries the very silly jokes of a farce and an unflinching gaze at how and why we are the way we are… I love that combination, partly because it feels so true to life.

Most of us know that farce does inevitably intrude into the most ‘serious’ parts of our life. In life we’re not allowed the dignity of dividing our life into distinct sections of serious bits and funny bits. Rather, we just madly scrabble along. So it is in this play!

Like many people, watching Caryl’s writing showed me new ways theatre could be… it’s very thrilling to go back to the beginning.

CM: Can you tell us about your cast?
SP-J: Yes, I could talk about them forever! They are completely amazing. It’s such fun having a big cast: they’re seven in total.

JST audiences will know a few of them. Laura Doddington, who plays Marion, was a revelation just this year in ‘Yours Unfaithfully’; Mark Huckett who plays Marion’s husband Clegg dazzled in last year’s production ‘The Marriage Of Alice B Toklas And Gertrude Stein’; and long-time JST audiences will remember Boadicea Ricketts who plays Lisa sparkle in my predecessor Tom Littler’s thrilling nine play Noel Coward cycle ‘Tonight At 8:30’.

I hadn’t met Tom Morley who plays Worsely, Laura Woodhouse who plays Mrs Arlington, or Ryan Donaldson who plays Alec before, but I now can’t imagine life without them. The same is true for Pearl Marsland who plays Alec’s mum. This is Pearl’s first time on the JST stage but she did direct a production here back in the 90s! 

CM: We last spoke to you earlier this year and then you were six months into being AD. How have things been going in the meantime?
SP-J: Gosh I can’t believe it’s been that long! It’s been such an exciting six months. Since I spoke to you last, we co-produced ‘Yours Unfaithfully’ with the Mint Theatre in New York. It was our first transatlantic collaboration and I hope the first of many!

Katherine Moar’s debut play ‘Farm Hall’ is currently on a national tour and audiences are loving it just as much as they did here. David Doyle – the Executive Producer – and I are both really passionate about our work being part of a national conversation, so that’s very exciting!

And we premiered April de Angelis’ extraordinary new play ‘Infamous’, directed by Michael Oakley and starring Caroline Quentin, Rose Quentin and Riad Richie. Fotini Dimou’s design was a creation of rare beauty!

We’ve also announced our partnership with Jennifer Tuckett and Polly Kemp to launch the Women In Theatre lab that will tackle the lack of female representation on stage.

I know I’m forgetting things but it’s been a very thrilling time!

CM: Can you tell us what plans you have for the coming year?
SP-J: 2024 is our thirtieth anniversary! It’s such an extraordinary testament to co-founder and Executive Director Penny Horner that we’re still here. Anyone who has been here, as an artist or as an audience member, will have felt Penny’s presence.

We kick off 2024 with our Footprints Festival: a really thrilling festival that puts some of the most exciting new voices in the heart of the West End – which is right where they belong!

All of our Creative Associates are taking part, as is Aaron Kilercioglu, who won this year’s Woven Voices Prize For Playwriting for ‘The EU Killed My Dad’. I can’t wait to share their stories with audiences.

And then, we will soon announce two really thrilling world premieres. I wish I could tell you more about them but it’s safe to say they’re both real coups! It’s our most ambitious season yet.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
SP-J: Next up we premiere Charles Court Opera’s ‘Odyssey: A Heroic Pantomime’. Irreverent, riotously funny, stuffed to the gills with virtuosic performances, Charles Court Opera’s boutique pantos have long been one of the most anticipated events on the London festive calendar. We’re so excited to be partnering with them for the first time.

I love being in rehearsal but I really miss being in the office with the brilliant team and so I’m looking forward to cooking up more plans with them.

‘Owners’ is on at Jermyn Street from 17 Oct-11 Nov. See the venue website here for more information and to book your tickets.