Perhaps it’s a slightly obscure comparison to draw, but Cardboard Citizens’ new production Cathy seems to have a lot in common with the National Theatre/Birmingham Rep production of Love earlier this year. Both plays focus around the topic of the UK housing crisis, both have a particular emphasis on familial relationships and, most importantly, both are absolutely cracking pieces of theatre.
“Informative, heart-breaking and enraging in equal measure”
Loosely based around the 1966 Ken Loach film, Cathy Come Home, this new production follows Cathy and her daughter Danielle as they are evicted from their home, unable to keep up with rent repayments. When Cathy Come Home was televised in 1966, it was among the first, and certainly the most powerful, attempts to shed light on the issue of homelessness. It seems almost inexplicable that we are here, more than 50 years on, and council housing remains such an urgent, prominent issue. And that’s what makes Cathy so brilliant. Watching one slight change in a stable lifestyle send a family spiralling towards poverty is shocking and frankly it’s enraging that the system can be so unforgiving. What’s more, the considered and careful handling of the relationship between Cathy and Danielle proves utterly heart-breaking as the plot develops and Cathy no longer has the means of providing for her own daughter.
The performances behind this production are absolutely incredible. A small, but versatile cast of four portray a huge variety of characters, with Cathy Owen’s performance as the eponymous Cathy proving particularly nuanced and naturalistic. The longing for a better life shines through in Owen’s performance, as she desperately tries to give her daughter the opportunity to succeed, no matter the personal cost.
Clocking in at 90-minutes, Cathy is longer than the conventional Fringe performance, but uses that time to its full potential, slowly developing characters and plot in a natural and emotionally-focused manner. This production never drags, and never rushes either. Rather, it is perfectly paced, spending over a year of time with the characters, following huge changes in their lives. And when the play reaches its emotional conclusion, it’s fair to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Cathy is an extraordinary and important piece of work from Cardboard Citizens. Informative, heart-breaking and enraging in equal measure, Cathy is essential viewing.
Pleasance Dome, 2nd – 26th August (not 9th, 14th, 21st), 15:30
Image: Cardboard Citizens