Cathy – Soho Theatre London:
Cathy is brought to the stage fifty years after Ken Loach and Jeremy Sandford’s groundbreaking seminal TV drama Cathy Come Home was broadcast on the BBC, a programme that shocked the nation with its brutal realism and its account of one family’s tragic descent into homelessness.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the company Cardboard Citizens, which makes theatre with and for homeless people, their renowned artistic director Adrian Jackson MBE uses Forum Theatre to provoke to change. Forum Theatre is a style of theatre that empowers the audience to change the outcome of events and have their say; it was created by the innovative and influential theatre practitioner Augusto Boal as part of what he called “Theatre of the Oppressed.” Boal created Forum theatre as a forum for teaching people how to change their world.
Cathy is poignantly written by award-winning playwright Ali Taylor and directed by Adrian Jackson. Inspired by the original story of Cathy Come Home Ali Taylor has reimagined it in a modern context, in what proves to be a stark and timely look at the impact of spiralling social housing costs, gentrification, exploitative landlords, forced relocation and an under-funded, painfully dispassionate housing system. This production not only gives the audience an insight into the crushing realities of the modern-day homelessness through the lives of Cathy and her teenage daughter but it also enables the audience to participate in an interactive discussion after the show allowing them to voice their opinions and contribute ideas for housing initiative.
The set uses giant blocks from Jenga game for intermittent projections showing snippets of real-life stories to create simple spaces depicting the various rooms and locations inhabited throughout the narrative and in some respects its fragile structure represents the fragility of peoples’ lives.
Cathy (played a with touching honesty by Cathy Owen) who lives with her teenage daughter Danielle (a brilliant Hayley Wareham) gets into rent arrears and is evicted by the private landlord from the estate she has lived on most of her life. Landlords, housing officers, Cathy’s sister and father are all cleverly played by Amy Loughton and Alex Jones. Estranged from her alcoholic ex, Cathy aspires for her 15-year-old daughter to get on in the world and achieve what she has never had the opportunity to do. Danielle is thriving and aiming to go to university, however the rapid descent into homelessness sends ripples through their family life with crippling effect, relationships become fraught and mother and daughter become tragically estranged and Danielle’s education takes a tumble as she has to live out of bag never knowing where she will spend the night. There is a deeply poignant scene where Cathy asks Danielle to tell her the results of her GCSE’s, which moved me to tears, as it seemed to do with those sitting either side of me, proving that without the scaffolding in place it is very hard for a child to go on to achieve.
This impactful production delivers a very a powerful message around a topic which the resonates with any Londoner who walks through the streets and wonders how or why we created a society in which homelessness is a day to day reality of the world in which we live in today.
I, like I suspect many others think that homelessness is to do with addiction, asylum or mental health yet this play is a painful reminder it could it is as easy as falling behind in a months rent where there is a greedy landlord in charge of your destiny, something we could all fall victim to. And just how quickly one can lose control of everything you’ve worked for, including the ultimate loss of your home and everything that goes with it.
Following its five star Edinburgh Fringe Festival run and hugely successful 2016/17 tour, Cardboard Citizens production of Cathy is playing a strictly limited run at the Soho Theatre until 14th April, Albany Theatre and performances across the UK.