Ann Henning Jocelyn’s new play Only Our Own follows three generations of a rich English family in Ireland as they struggle to reconcile with their past and the community around them. The play opens in 1989 at the dining table of the family’s Connemara home. All appears civilised and serene until Titania (Alex Gilbert) storms in, bemoaning the outdated ritual of eating together. This sparks outrage – though not as much as her pregnancy does a few scenes later – and her mother Meg explains ‘It’s how we do things here’. This is a family stuck in its ways and in its past.
It soon becomes clear that all is not rosy for the family. Dying matriarch Lady Eliza (Elaine Montgomerie) is desperate to tell her granddaughter the terrible family secret after living her whole life in the shadow of one night. As a child her home was burnt by Irish rebels and she was forced to flee, a sad story told well by Montgomerie as she writes the letter to Titania. However the monologue is overlong, making its shocking content feel hollow by the end. This is a sign of things to come: Only Our Own continues to feel unnecessarily protracted, not helped by clunky dialogue, unconvincing characters and the slowest scene transitions that I’ve ever endured.
Above all this, the main problem is the play’s distinct lack of drama. All of the action happens offstage, leaving the characters frantically explaining what has happened since we last saw them (the other side of the excruciating scene change) at the beginning of each scene. This makes the play feel disjointed and the audience is too far removed to really care about the family. The story is passed to us like second-hand gossip by a cast that doesn’t seem to care much either. Cornelius Garrett brings passion to Andrew’s final scenes but the performances are otherwise unremarkable. Henning Joceleyn leaves the audience to add the Irish context themselves, including only quiet murmurs of the Protestant/Catholic conflict, and this proves to be a choice that ultimately falls flat. Only Our Own drags painfully by the interval and often feels like a checklist of clichés: teenage pregnancy? Tick. Post-natal depression? Tick. Drunk, violent Catholics? Tick, tick, tick.
Act Two opens on a more promising note with new grandparents Meg and Andrew (Maev Alexander and Cornelius Garrett) reinvigorated by Titania’s half Irish Catholic children. Henning Jocelyn’s message here is clear: unity between Protestants and Catholics is the only way to build a bridge across the shared traumatic past. This is hammered home continuously as the second half quickly becomes just as lacklustre as the first.
Meg and Andrew become the children’s surrogate parents while Titania recovers from depression and reinvents herself, twice, but remains just as shrill and irritating as an adult as she was in her teenage years. She returns from London glamorised and calling herself ‘Tania’. There is a new man on the scene and she plans to take the children to America with him. Meg and Andrew are heartbroken. Once the children leave their world falls apart once more and the scenes grow increasingly morbid. If the audience had been able to build a feeling of sympathy for the characters they would have been very touching. But this is not the case – I merely envied Meg’s swift exit from the sinking ship of Only Our Own. The conclusion is convenient, predictable and full of laboured, eye-roll inducing metaphors. When it ended most of the audience heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Only Our Ownwould almost definitely work better if we saw some of the drama rather than just heard about it. As it stands, I left feeling cheated of two hours by this damp squib of a play. The ticking clock, presumably intended to add dramatic tension, just serves as a teasing reminder to an audience already too aware of time passing by.