The Countess

Written  by
Paul Kalburgi
Blue Elephant Theatre, London, UK, 2016


This is the story of a woman who led an extraordinary double life, conning Brent council out of nearly £200,000 in fraudulent benefit claims.


In 1997, Marianne Jonson (born Robert Duxbury) was granted a lease to run the Roundwood Lodge Café in Roundwood Park. In 2002, as the café became successful; Jonson applied for a second national insurance number in the name of the Countess Mariaska Romanov, claiming to have lived abroad for many years… and that Marianne Jonson was her twin sister!


Jonson claimed ‘intermittent paraplegia’, and for Social Services visits she would lie in bed with a scarf covering her head, wearing sunglasses in a darkened room – claiming to be afraid of meeting people, sensitive to light and unable to leave the house. This was backed up by a medical assessment, allegedly from eminent surgeon Professor Marsden, but cobbled together from medical journals, and written after his death!


In a six-week trial dubbed ‘stranger than fiction’, the court heard how payments funded a lavish lifestyle, including foreign travel, luxury shopping, and weekly visits to salons and manicurists.

Told through exclusive interviews with the people at the centre of the story, court transcripts and extensive research - for the first time, this verbatim play tells the full story of the self-styled Countess who led an extraordinary double life.

Photos by Vincent White

"A benefits scandal
stranger than fiction"


Scott Le Crass
Rachel Dobell

John White

Cindy Evans

Judy Tcherniak

Joan Plunkett

Roger Sansom

Alan Booty

Miranda Colmans

Damian Robinson

Rachel Summer

Alec Gray


"The complex story is brilliantly untangled."   


"Very engaging and well told."

"A lot of untold information was aired."

"Compelling… Fascinating… Brilliant!"

"A Great play!"

"Amazing story… brilliant script."