Review: OWLS

2 star rating
An attempted suicide offers a tantalising start, but the play then shifts focus away from the torments of mental illness, failing to offer convincing messages or fresh insights.
OWLS at Baron's Court Theatre

Image: Loosely Based Theatre Company

Closes here: Monday 23 July 2018

Jayne Woodhouse

Calum Robshaw


Steve - David House

Anna - Kate Austen

Pavel / Darren - Neil Gardner


One night, on the roof of a multi-storey car park, two strangers collide: Anna, who is about to jump, and Steve, the hapless security guard who finds her.

As they begin the search for some connection, Steve discovers that if he wants to save Anna's life, he must first save his own.

'Owls' uses humour to create a bold and unflinching view of the challenging issues surrounding attempted suicide and mental illness.

It builds the hope that, eventually, everyone can fly.


ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Monday 23 July 2018
Review star rating image

Starting-off life as a 15 minute play back in 2016, this three-hander has now been progressed into a 70 minute play which here gets an airing as part of the Actor Awareness Festival of New Writing.

The issue of mental health has been surfacing at pretty regular intervals in plays over recent years, possibly because of concern about the quality of care for those suffering mental ill-health.

Whatever the impetus driving the discussion, there doesn't seem to be much shortage of drama tackling the issue.

That means a new play covering the subject has to look for a different angle to deliver fresh insights.

Owls has a tantalising initial set-up.

David House's Steve is an ordinary bloke who performs a pretty ordinary - and pretty thankless - job as a security guard at a car park.

That dovetails quite nicely with the festival's aim of showcasing material with working class themes.

Steve meets Kate Austen's twenty year-old Anna when he discovers her standing on the edge of the rooftop of the building where he works - she's about to jump off and kill herself.

Of course, Kate doesn't despatch herself into oblivion.

So it's what comes after the initial scene that matters.

I suspected that we would learn much more about what drives people to commit suicide or to understand more about mental health but, sadly, it doesn't turn out like that.

Once he's stopped Anna from trying to jump, Steve tries to persuade her to leave the rooftop, having to improvise conversation as best he can.

But he's on a difficult path since Anna is reluctant to talk, and doesn't care that she might be jeopardising his job.

We don't really learn much about just what kind of mental illness Anna is suffering from, but when she reappears 2 months later, she seems much better - "the well Anna" as she describes herself.

So, we're left assuming that she is afflicted with, perhaps, bi-polar disorder, or severe depression.

Whatever it is, it's a condition that seems intermittent, or at least can be ameliorated with treatment.

But the focus of Jayne Woodhouse's play seems much more concerned with Steve's life and his relationship with his son, than about Anna's mental condition and her desire to terminate her existence.

That leaves us questioning just what the play is trying to say about mental illness and how it can drive people to attempt suicide.

At the very least, the play's intent is ambiguous, and I left not knowing just what big messages I was being asked to take away.

The actors bravely battled some technical gremlins during the proceedings, admirably soldiering on without it affecting their delivery.

David House's Steve commendably describes an ordinary, unassuming man who, in the course of his routine work is suddenly confronted by a life or death situation which he has to stumble his way through as best he can.

And Kate Austen ably provides a blunt, seemingly determined young woman who, initially at least, finds "black fog" and "black slime" swirling around her mind, that forces her to seek a final solution to the torments she faces.

That unbearable, endless agony seemed to offer a way in to take a fresh and revelatory look at mental illness and how it can drive people to consider suicide.

But the play seemed bent on contriving a link between Anna's health problems and Steve's life-issues that I found unconvincing.

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