Pleasance Dome, Venue 23
Ken Loach’s influential Wednesday Play, Cathy Come Home, first saw the light of day in November 1966 and made a powerful impact on the public consciousness. In 2016, his searing film, I, Daniel Blake demonstrated that over the intervening fifty years, very little has changed when it comes to society’s callous treatment of the dispossessed. This production by Cardboard Citizen is very much a homage to Loach and his worldview (at one point it even features a recording of the director speaking about his concerns). It’s a new play by Ali Taylor, based upon real-life testimonies, showing all too clearly how people’s lives can so easily be affected by the spectre of homelessness – how they can slip through the cracks in the care system to find themselves abandoned and in desperate straits.
Cathy (Cathy Owen) is one such person, a single parent struggling to care for her fifteen-year-old daughter, Danielle (Hayley Wareham). Cathy holds down several zero-hours-contract cleaning jobs and tries her best to look after her dementia-afflicted father, who now lives in a care home. When she falls behind on her rent payments, she finds herself unceremoniously shunted into ‘temporary’ accommodation in Luton, far from the area where she’s lived all her life. Danielle, currently studying for her impending exams, finds it hard to deal with the ensuing rootlessness and, when the possibility of a permanent home appears tantalisingly on the horizon, mother and daughter are momentarily cheered – until they find it will involve a move to Gateshead.
This is a bleak and affecting drama, featuring superb performances from a four-strong cast. While Owen and Wareham stay within their roles throughout, all others parts are taken on by Amy Loughton and Alex Jones, who slip so effortlessly from character to character, I sometimes have the impression that there are actually more than four actors involved in this. The set is minimal, built mostly around a stack of wooden blocks onto which images are projected during the scene changes. If I have a minor criticism, it’s that there may be a little too much time spent dragging the blocks around to create beds, tables and the like – better, I think to trust the audience to know where events are taking place – though the scene where a frustrated Danielle sends the blocks tumbling is undoubtedly a powerful moment. While it may not be the show you’ll seek out to lift your spirits, it’s nonetheless a powerful polemic that tells a really important story – one that occasionally has me on the verge of tears. We don’t usually review previews but this has already been touring solidly for three months before Edinburgh and, after checking with director, Adrian Jackson, I’m happy to make an exception for this.
After the performance, Jackson leads a brief discussion about the problems of homelessness in our society. The overall feeling from the audience is one of helplessness. What can we do to improve this terrible situation? Well, a good way to start would be to go and see this heartrending production. Though it may not claim to have any answers, it certainly asks all the right questions.