50 years ago, Ken Loach’s TV drama, Cathy Come Home, won plaudits for its gritty and honest treatment of homelessness. Cardboard Citizens’ latest production takes inspiration from the film, exploring contemporary homelessness in the context of a failing British housing system. It’s powerful, direct and unashamedly political - this is a show that sets out to make a point, and succeeds!

The show feels more meaningful thanks to its direct attempt to influence policy

Cathy (Cathy Owen) and her daughter Danielle (Hayley Wareham) have lived in their little London flat for years, since Cathy split from Danielle’s father. She works as a cleaner, taking on copious overtime to make ends meet. However, when they find themselves in rent arrears their landlord wastes no time in turfing them out. Without any family to take them in, the pair are subject to the capricious whims of an indifferent social housing system - bunged into grimy bedsits, shipped across the country, and ultimately left destitute.

The central duo do a good job carrying this emotionally intense production. Owen’s Cathy begins as proud and purposeful, but the relentless adversity she experiences eventually leaves her broken and despondent. We feel for her throughout this journey and her character is steadfastly credible. Wareham’s portrayal of Danielle, a perfectly normal teenager who is forced to reluctantly become mature beyond her years, is also praiseworthy. The set comprised of giant Jenga blocks which are moved around as the scenes change is also a nice touch - a nod to unstable housing, perhaps?

At times, the conversations Cathy has on her roller-coaster of bad luck seem contrived. Many of the characters she meets seem like unsympathetic archetypes, they’re two-dimensional and really only serve to make us feel sympathy for Cathy and Danielle. This does not detract from the play’s overall message, but it feels a bit unsatisfying.

The play’s final strength is its post-show discussion, where the audience suggest legal or policy changes that could help prevent situations like Cathy’s from arising. Cardboard Citizens intend to present both the play and a compilation of the audience’s suggestions at the House of Lords. Unfortunately the constraints of a Fringe time slot prevent this from being proper forum theatre, but the company have managed this as best they can and the show feels more meaningful thanks to its direct attempt to influence policy. 

Reviews by Nuri Syed Corser

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The Blurb

Following a hugely successful UK tour, Cardboard Citizens' powerful four-star play hits the Edinburgh Festival. Inspired by Ken Loach's groundbreaking film, Cathy Come Home, Ali Taylor's timely new drama imagines a Cathy for the modern age, bringing to life the impact of spiralling housing costs, gentrification and the challenges of forced relocation. Coming to the festival for the first time in its 25th anniversary year, Cardboard Citizens will use its trademark style to give audiences the chance to join the debate as to how society should be tackling these issues. **** (Stage). **** ( **** (