Mercury Theatre, Colchester. (UK Tour)
Fifty years after Ken Loach’s seminal Cathy Come Home, and twenty-five years after their creation, Cardboard Citizens have created a response to Loach’s original, to assess how things have changed. Depressingly, and inevitably, things have got much worse, as Cathy and her daughter are strangled and then spat out on the streets by red tape and indifference.
It’s a powerful verbatim piece, linked by voice over’s and images of actual cases, people made homeless through no fault of their own, but falling victim to the greed of landlords and lack of social housing. An excellent cast of four convince with each scene, as Cathy’s life falls apart. A working woman, always paid her taxes, had never signed on for benefits, gets behind on her rent and is evicted. For a verbatim piece, the characters are fully drawn and believable, and, although difficult to watch in places, the message is delivered effectively by avoiding a didactic approach, but in episodic naturalism.
As Cathy, Cathy Owen is powerfully real, a natural, normal performance that leads you into her world from the outset, when she discovers her council flat is now in private ownership and her rent has been hiked up. She enters a Kafkaesque, nightmarish world, and the performance keeps us involved throughout- she is gripping. As her daughter, Hayley Wareham is equally convincing, and what both actors really convey is the embarrassment of being homeless, the loss of dignity. All the other female roles are played by the excellent Amy Loughton, from hard edged property owner to Latvian friend, she displays great versatility. Alex Jones, in playing all the males roles, perhaps lacks a little of this versatility, but many of his characters are in a similar vein.
The innovative set by Lucy Sierra is like a Jenga cardboard city, versatile and changing almost organically to keep the pace free and flowing. Adrian Jackson’s direction is uncompromising and never hysterical. My week began with Loach’s new film I, Daniel Blake, and many themes overlap with this play. I shall miss him when he can no longer shout for the “working poor”, a new and terrifying term that makes me wonder why, as a society, we are not angrier about this. Catch this production on tour and let your awareness be raised.
Photos: Pamela Raith