Director: Adrian Jackson
Writer: Ali Taylor
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
To commemorate 50 years since the release of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home and on their 25th anniversary, Cardboard Citizens theatre company revive Ali Taylor’s Cathy.
After an unexpected visit from her new landlord, Cathy quickly finds herself possessing only the clothes she has stuffed in the bag carried by her 15 year old daughter. Without support from family or the state, Cathy quickly finds herself in desperation.
The subject of homelessness is as relevant, if not more, than half a century ago when Loach’s documentary was made. Against the backdrop of the present day, Cathy explores this topic in human terms. In giving a name, face and identity to the subject, the reality of its proximity is sobering.
As a piece of drama, Cathy is rough, raw and politically charged. It is the task of theatre to make its audience feel and there is no question about the power of this piece. Emotions are stirred early on in the piece but are well and truly annihilated by its closing.
The harrowing tragedy is particularly cutting in the intimate setting of the Citizens Theatre’s Circle Studio, where its audience cannot avoid looking into the wet eyes of the characters presented to them. The Glasgow audience is sympathetic to Cathy without apology; there are no accusatory questions as to her motives. Tears are quick to fall and slow to stop in this gruelling account.
Cathy Owen plays the protagonist with conviction and purpose. In moments, she evokes emotion simply by her existence, as often understated as she is frantic. Her performance is truly outstanding; even in the bleakest moments, a pained laugh brings a humanity to the character that could not be otherwise prescribed. Her performance will linger long in the conscience of those who see it. Owen is ably supported by Hayley Wareham (Danielle, Cathy’s daughter) and Amy Loughton and Alex Jones, who play all other roles. Loughton’s handle on her separate characters in particular is worth note.
Though Matt Lewis’ sound is effective in bringing depth to a skeletal set, Edward Japp’s video design is completely lost in scene changes. Party due to poor sight lines for such an intimate venue, projections are not presented in any decipherable setting. As such, the potential to nod at the material which inspired the production was missing.
There is a clear political narrative to the piece that will not sit well with all. Whilst this is understandable, the play was constructed using real people’s stories; this gives the whole piece a degree of authenticity that stands up against superficial criticism.
After the drama, the audience are given the opportunity to play things out (literally) themselves to explore alternative outcomes. Though debate is wholly sympathetic to the plight of our protagonist, there does develop a revealing and informative discussion on the key issues of the play. This workshop-style discussion is an optional extra for the audience but is incredibly worthwhile in both challenging preconceived ideas and in making its audience question their own conclusions about what has just been seen. It is particularly good that the cast are so involved in this section and it makes a real change to the post-show talk panel format.
Cardboard Citizens do not set out with the intention of solving the homelessness epidemic in the UK with this production. Their success, however, lies in making audiences feel difficult about the issue. In Cathy, the company have found the vehicle with which to challenge their audience.
This is a piece of theatre that will play on the conscience for months to come and excels in delivering a sucker-punch of humanity to an issue that has long been de-humanised. If only to challenge one’s own pre-conceptions, Cathy is a must see.
Runs until 21 April 2018, then touring | Image: Pamela Raith