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Cardboard Citizens’ Cathy review

31 March 2018 | Sian Brett

The reality of the housing crisis in Britain is brought into sharp focus in this modernisation of Ken Loach’s 1966 film Cathy Come Home. Cathy (Cathy Owen) and her daughter Danielle (Hayley Wareham) have lived in the same council flat for 10 years and on the same estate for longer. Landlord changes, rent arrears, emergency accommodation and an unsympathetic council all combine to take this away from them. They find themselves homeless.

Loach’s film is ever present throughout the play, routinely projected onto the huge jenga style blocks that make up the set, alongisde footage from the research that took place for the play. It’s a reoccurring reminder that although we are watching a fiction, sat safely in a theatre, part of an audience, this fiction is based closely on real problems that real people are facing right now. As the blocks are moved to create different spaces within the set these images become distorted, showing just how quickly and easily what is built can be taken apart.
 
As we see Cathy and Danielle move from place to place, offered temporary accommodation hundreds of miles from London and slowly lose any sense of stability or home, it is impossible not to be drawn into their lives. The mother and daughter who are forced to sit in council offices for entire days and carry their entire lives with them in shopping bags are scarily recognisable. Danielle is doing her GCSE’s. Cathy is working three jobs. Cathy’s dad is elderly and unwell. What’s so smart about the play is how it undoes any sense of othering that numerous government policies and rhetoric have attempted to do when it comes to the homeless community. The people without a home are just like you and me. It could happen to anyone.


Image Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
 
For a topic as large and sprawling as the homeless crisis in Britain, it’s the small moments that are the most striking. The B&B owners who blame the filthy room and cockroaches on the people who have only lived there for a week. The club owner who tells his Latvian member of staff to speak English if she’s going to live in England. The racist girls on a school bus. The closing walls and circles of a Britain full of fear that they might be next. A bus worker who makes tea for the homeless who sit on buses all night long, and asks their names.
 
Cathy leaves you with a burning sense that something must be done, and that the system is broken. What is made clear is that the odds are stacked against us, and just how easy it is to slip between the cracks, to be put into a council database and forgotten. But what Cardboard Citizens have done is not only create a show that inspires you to galvanise and protest, but offers you the tools to do that. On previous tours the performance ends in suggestions from the audience for laws to make change. In 2017 the best five laws were presented to the House of Lords. Cardboard Citizens are still asking – what can we do? We’ve shown you the problem - what’s the solution? This 2018 tour sees them continue this post show discussion. Audience members are invited to call out solutions, which are written down and then, when you sign up, emailed to you over 8 weeks, as a reminder of what you’ve seen but also what you can practically do. It’s theatre that actually actively tries to make change rather than presenting you with an issue and then leaving you to enjoy the theatre bar and bus home.


Image Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Cardboard Citizens asks one more thing of their audience when the performance ends - to call out how they’re feeling.
“Distraught” one voice said.
“Unsurprised” said another.
That pretty much sums it up for us.  
 
Cathy is playing at Soho Theatre until 14 April, before embarking on a nationwide tour. You can get tickets here and read our interview with writer Ali Taylor here.

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