Home » London Theatre Reviews » Cardboard Citizens presents Cathy by Ali Taylor | Soho Theatre | Review

Cardboard Citizens presents Cathy by Ali Taylor | Soho Theatre | Review

Cardboard Citizens Cathy: Pamela Raith Photography
Cardboard Citizens Cathy: Pamela Raith Photography

Over fifty years ago, the BBC aired a play that changed many people’s perception of the homeless. Of course, things were different then and such a play would no longer have the same relevance it once did, would it? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that after you go and see Ali Taylor’s Cathy at the Soho Theatre.

Cathy (Cathy Owen) is a typical East End mum. Although single, she does everything she can to keep a roof over her and daughter Danielle’s (Hayley Wareham) head. She has a nice place to live around the corner from her dad’s nursing home and works hard, on a zero hours contract, to keep body and soul together. Unfortunately, she is behind with her rent but that is OK as the old lady that owns the flat is a family friend. A visit by the nephew of the property owner brings Cathy down with a bump and moves her and her daughter from their normal, if not exactly easy lives, into another world. The world of the homeless and the various people (all played by Amy Loughton and Alex Jones) – both officialdom and others ready to judge or make a pretty penny out of their plight – with whom they have to interact.

The facts on homelessness are pretty astounding. Nearly 5,000 people are estimated to have bedded down overnight in 2017 – an increase of 15% on 2016 – with around 1,000 of them being in London. Cathy does a pretty good job of demonstrating how people can easily fall into the homeless trap – all it takes is a couple of missed payments. Lucy Sierra’s set encapsulates the idea beautifully with the biggest Jenga block I’ve ever seen dominating the side. Not only is this a handy device for projecting some of the real-life stories told as part of scene changes but, it also goes to demonstrate how fragile something that looks so stable can be. It doesn’t take that the removal of that many pieces for the entire structure to cave in on itself. I will admit, I did have some problems with the story itself. Whilst I felt some empathy for Cathy – having been evicted once – I became annoyed at her inability to accept the help (however limited) that was offered. I have moved around a lot in my life and have never really understood the all-encompassing loyalty to a location that some demonstrate. I know for many people the idea of leaving the area they have spent their lives in is impossible to contemplate but if the alternative is homelessness then she should have taken the offer no matter what the distance. My other issue was the portrayal of the council officials. In a former life, I was a manager in the housing department of a local authority and found the cold approach portrayed by the officials in the play to be definitely out of step with the way my team and I used to operate.

However, turning from the issues I have with the story, the production was very effective. Cathy Owen and Hayley Wareham were both really good in their roles of Cathy and daughter Danielle respectively. I also liked the touch of having Amy Loughton and Alex Jones playing everyone else, giving the show a real feel of Cathy against the world which added to the starkness of the subject matter. Cathy Owen, in particular, was outstanding and, as frustrated as I became with the character, I did find myself believing in the authenticity of the portrayal of this distraught woman willing to go to extreme lengths to protect her family.

Maybe living in London I have become more desensitised to homelessness than I once was but for me, Cathy did not have the same emotional connection or impact as the original Ken Loach film, ‘Cathy Come Home’. That isn’t to say it didn’t move me or make me feel ashamed that in the 21st Century, the fifth top economy in the world still has a massive homeless problem. The problem I had with the production was that it was a little too one-sided and, if I’m honest, I found the final ‘audience participation’ bit rather patronising and irritating. Taking that out of the mix though, Cathy is a well-presented thought-provoking play that will touch the heart of everyone that sees it and hopefully do something to raise awareness of the problems the homeless face. As Cathy herself says to the council workers, it takes very little to take everything away and as I left the theatre, my mind turned to John Bradford’s statement from the mid-sixteenth century “there but for the grace of God go I”.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

She’s lived on the estate for 40 years: it’s her home and nobody can take that away… can they?

Exploring homelessness 50 years on from Cathy Come Home, the seminal Ken Loach film, Cathy is candid, poignant and intimate. It offers a timely reflection on the social and personal impact of spiralling housing costs, gentrification and the challenges of forced relocation.

Following its five star hit run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Cathy returns to London.

Cardboard Citizens make theatre which illuminates homelessness and the lives of homeless people, revealing truth and sometimes beauty.

Tue 27 Mar – Sat 14 Apr 2018


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