Writer: Ali Taylor
Director: Adrian Jackson
Reviewer: Mattie Bagnall
It has been over fifty years since the BBC television play Cathy Come Home first told the compelling story of Cathy losing her livelihood as she was forced onto the streets. Many of these issues still remain in modern day society. Ali Taylor’s latest play brings Cathy Come Home into 2017 and with Adrian Jackson’s direction they have delivered an insightful and powerful piece which captures the story behind ever-increasing issues of inequality and injustice.
Cardboard Citizens have been creating theatre for social change – primarily related to homelessness – for 25 years. This has left audiences captivated by the issues and questions that these interactive performances ask of society. The performance is divided into two acts, where the audience first understands Cathy’s helpless journey, before having the opportunity to identify solutions to her troubles on stage – known as Forum Theatre, where the audience are invited to take the role of a character and to fix the problems in the play.
Ali Taylor’s adaptation is both modernised and germane, making the themes of the play relevant to all. As mooted in the performance itself – anybody could find themselves in Cathy’s position. Cathy’s daughter, Danielle (Hayley Wareham), is a frustrated teenager who faces the stresses of her upcoming GCSE exams while being forced to deal with the uncertainty of where she will be sleeping from night to night. Wareham displays some maturity and develops into the role as the performance goes on. Her ability to capture the warmth of Danielle alongside her inevitable despair is excellent.
Cathy Owen – in the lead role of Cathy – brings the emotion in the play to life. In an ever helpless and desperate position, the audience’s empathy for her plight grows stronger and stronger. Owen’s compassion for the character of Danielle brings greater strength to her performance as she fights to withhold her deepest emotions for the sake of her daughter.
Amy Loughton does a fine job in portraying a series of different rôles. These include Cathy’s sister, Becks, with whom she develops a great connection in some crucial and tense moments in the story. Alex Jones brings subtle humour to many of the male roles he performs and plays an important rôle in the development of the play. This humour could be replaced with a stronger emotional connection in the latter stages of the play, however.
The Forum Theatre workshop which follows the performance is facilitated superbly by the ‘Joker’ Terry O’Leary. His humorous and personalised rapport with the audience encourages a significant amount of interaction and many willing volunteers enter the stage to find solutions to Cathy’s troubles. His considered facilitation focuses the audience’s attention on the issues at the heart of the play, and regularly contextualises these to local problems in Birmingham. This brings greater relevance to the performance and encourages the audience to make social change for the better.
The set design by Lucy Sierra is simple, yet effective. A life-size ‘Jenga’ tower is metaphorical of Cathy’s life as more and more is pulled from her before finally capsizing. The relationship between the set and visual projections from Edward Japp brings a documentary style during scene changes and makes the audience aware of the real life impact these issues are having on society. Matt Lewis’ sound design brings an ambient atmosphere which is effective but on occasions is excessive.
Overall, Cathy by Cardboard Citizens is a deeply personal and emotional play which brings distinct relevance to us all. The interactivity of the Forum Theatre makes the performance even more powerful and gives the audience the responsibility of enacting change for themselves.
Runs until 2o January 2017 | Image: Pamela Raith Photography