Cardboard Citizens have reached their 25th anniversary – a company devoted to raising awareness and helping the homeless through programmes, theatre and workshops. Cathy blends together Cardboard Citizens’ aims in the 50th year of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home to create a shocking, eye-opening account of today’s housing crisis.
We begin by watching Cathy (played by Cathy Owen) being handed a Section 21 notice by her landlord, giving her less than a week to pay her due rent or find somewhere else to live. So begins the turmoil that leads Cathy and her dependant fifteen-year-old daughter Danielle (Hayley Wareham) from home to home to sofa to the unknown. They are taken from their home, to a ‘temporary’ room in Luton that ends up being their home for five months, then offered to leave their lives in London for a two bed apartment in Newcastle. Watching Cathy’s situation is hard-hitting and shocking; we know there are so many others in similar positions but we rarely consider how difficult it really is.
Adrian Jackson’s direction smoothly conveys the downfall of Cathy’s world and crisis. Enormous jenga blocks are elegantly moved around the stage to create multiple different spaces, representative of the precarious position Cathy finds herself in. By moving around they are only biding their time, as with the current system things can fall apart at any point unless you are incredibly lucky. Cathy Owen and Hayley Wareham portray Cathy’s story with conviction and tenderness, we understand their actions and just want to reach out and help. Amy Loughton and Alex Jones finish up the cast by swiftly slipping between all other roles effectively and carrying Cathy’s story through the show. With documentary clips between scenes, Jackson’s direction is simple but allows you to be absorbed into Cathy’s world.
What I like most about Cardboard Citizens work is that they do not just present all these injustices and situations to you and leave you to it. After the performance, an open discussion event was held posing questions and circumstances to all those who stayed to listen. What could Cathy have done differently? What legislation would we employ to deal with the housing crisis? Why is this still happening? Not only did we have the opportunity to ponder over these questions and discuss what we feel needs to be done, but we got the opportunity to participate in a unique bit of forum theatre. Audience members could volunteer themselves to take Cathy’s place and express how they feel she should have dealt with the multiple challenging circumstances she ended up in. With some more knowledgeable members of the audience, this was an essential learning curve for many of us and heightened the impact of the play itself.
Although a few small sections to iron out in the discussion post-show – and possibly even more to be made from the Forum Theatre section – I hope that audiences all over the United Kingdom attend both the show and conversation. As a topic that effects all of us in one way or another, it is necessary to be educated, empathetic and engaged in the housing issues that we face in modern Britain today. Cardboard Citizens are pushing the boundaries of what needs to be said and opening up the discussion to more people who can make a difference.
Cathy played at the Pleasance Theatre until October 15. For more information and tickets, see cardboardcitizens.org.uk
Photo: Pamela Raith