Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Cathy - Soho Theatre

To mark the 50th anniversary of Ken Loach and Jeremy Sandford’s film, Cathy Come Home, Cardboard Citizens’ Cathy was commissioned in 2016. Two years, 8,400 viewers and a performance at the House of Lords later, this powerful piece on homelessness and the housing crisis is embarking on a revival tour, including a three-week run at Soho Theatre.

Written by Ali Taylor, the play was researched as documentary fiction, with the central narrative inspired and shaped by the stories of real people. Following the journey of a woman and her teenage daughter, Cathy is a reflection on the state of housing, gentrification and our society's treatment of homelessness.

The steep raked seating of Soho Theatre’s main space creates an imposing block of eyes staring down at the performers, intensifying the sense of entrapment and the superiority of those with the power to flip their lives upside down.

The set-up is simple. A jenga-style tower of blocks is stacked in one corner, with a few plastic chairs and all the belongings they can physically carry around with them making up the remaining props. The building blocks serve multiple purposes. Footage from real people and their stories are projected onto the tower, which is gradually torn down block by block as Cathy and her daughter lose piece by piece of their lives and security. As these blocks are knocked down, they form the many barriers and obstacles on the pair’s journey, creating smaller and smaller spaces as Cathy and Danielle are unwillingly shunted around. 

Cathy Owen’s protagonist is a charismatic and mouthy but proudly protective mother, rendering it impossible not to connect with her from the opening scene. Hayley Wareham plays Cathy's daughter not with the cliché moodiness stereotyped by so many teenage characters, but with an astute understanding of the way in which the pressures of both her home life and teenage troubles affect her every move. The two are completely and effortlessly real, charming the audience with their witty exchanges, while also bringing the room to tears with the dual strength and fragility of their relationship. 

The remaining characters are portrayed by just two performers, Amy Loughton and Alex Jones, whose brilliant versatility take unexpected and impressive turns with each new scene. The decision to have these two performers play every other character is not just a logistical one, but it gives the pair an overarching presence as ‘society’, often shining a harsh light on the way we talk about and deal with homelessness.

Cathy aims to show how easy it is for hardworking and honest individuals to be forced into a life of homelessness, and how the system and society are failing such dependent families. It is both eye-opening and heartbreakingly familiar, filling you with more and more guilt and shame with every passing minute.

The play finishes with an address from the performers, turning to the audience and encouraging us to help by asking what we can do in our everyday routines to aid the homeless and alleviate the housing crisis.

Not only is Cathy a truly powerful piece of theatre, but it delivers an important message and agenda. While the original production collected laws presented to the House of Lords, the revival tour combats the individual, with the initiative Citizens Do.

Cathy is playing at Soho Theatre until 14th April, before continuing its tour around the UK.

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