Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Inspired by Ken Loach’s seminal work Cathy Come Home which was first broadcast in 1966, Cathy explores the current state of housing and homelessness in the UK and asks what life might be like for a Cathy today. It explores the social and personal impact of rising housing costs, limited social housing and forced relocation.
Cardboard Citizens make theatre with and for homeless people, and are renowned for their Forum Theatre and storytelling approaches which suffuse this piece.
Director Adrian Jackson’s staging is striking, with excellent use of wooden blocks that form staging and represent buildings, as well as acting as backdrop for the projection of snippets from Loach’s film followed by present day interviews with people experiencing homelessness. The matter of fact tone in which they relate their stories somehow makes them the more disturbing. Unfortunately, in the King Dome’s large auditorium, not everyone had a good view of the projections. A more intimate space might also have brought the audience more physically into Cathy’s world.
The script, written by Ali Jones and based on true stories, packs in a catalogue of events at some speed. The cast rearrange the space and change scenes cleanly and smoothly. A fraction less content might have allowed time to explore the personal impact of the situation in a little more depth rather than always needing to move the story forward – this is perhaps a function of the desire to represent and give voice to as many people as possible.
There are strong performances from the cast of four.
Alex Jones and Amy Loughton multirole as a series of people with whom Cathy and her daughter Danielle come into contact – landlords, housing officer, sister, ex-husband an so on. Loughton in particular manages to bring a new presence to each role. The multi-role device highlights how Cathy’s homelessness begins to define her and her relationships.
It is Cathy Owen’s task as Cathy to carry the narrative. Owen shows Cathy’s confusion and high-pitched desperation particularly well. Given just a little more space to develop, her character might have been still more nuanced.
Hayley Wareham as Danielle gives a superb performance, balancing anxiety and concern with moments of teenage self-centredness.
At the end of the performance members of the audience are asked to give a one word response – these included “uncomfortable”, “angry” and “moved”. There is then a short piece of Legislative Theatre asking the audience to propose new laws that would help combat the issues shown. (After a performance of Cathy at the House of Lords earlier this year, the company presented to MPs the top five housing laws suggested by audiences on the UK tour.) The ten minutes allowed for the interactive session was sadly too short for much meaningful discussion to ensue.
This is challenging theatre that moves us emotionally and asks big questions. In Cathy, Cardboard Citizens argue that the housing crisis is just as pressing as it was 50 years ago. In this context, verbatim theatre that seeks to raise awareness and change laws has a very important role to play.