Last year award-winning theatre company Cardboard Citizens performed a 50th anniversary re-staging of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home and now they continue their exploration of the state of housing and homelessness with a new play, Cathy.
Researched with the help of housing and homelessness charity Shelter and written by Ali Taylor, the play exploring how life might be for a Cathy today comes to the Crucible Studio next week.
“I watched Cathy Come Home and what struck me was how powerful it was and still is,” says the playwright, “and the final scene where Cathy has her children dragged off her is one of the most powerful images in television.
“What I wanted to do was tell a story inspired by that and taking a flavour of it and putting a modern context on it. I was keen to look at the effects of eviction and homelessness on a family, especially mothers and daughters.
“I have a toddler myself and that would be my worst nightmare, to be separated from my child.
“We met dozens of women who were struggling as primary care-givers and having to get used to a new location with no friends and no information. They would arrive in the middle of the night and have to ask a kid in the street where they could get milk or bread.”
Some things have changed for the better, he concedes. “The safety net is more sophisticated than it was in the Sixties. Shelter and Crisis and other charities were formed as a result and so there is a support network.”
That said, there are 57,000 homeless and the figure continues to rise. Councils are struggling to meet their duty to provide homes for people evicted.
“We spoke to housing officers who were decent people trying to do a decent job in the face of £7bn of housing cuts,” he says. “They do their best but often that’s not good enough.
“People are vulnerable. It’s OK if you know how the system works or have the self-confidence but a lot of people are intimidated by authority or have mental health issues.”
Each performance will end with an interactive Forum Theatre debate in which the audience will be encouraged to suggest different actions and outcomes for the narrative.
Taylor has previous experience of working with Cardboard Citizen on this format. “You write a series of provocative scenes in which you see the main character clashing with an authority figure and then you get people from the audience coming on stage and finding different ways for her to get what they want.
“It’s exciting. The British are supposed to be reserved but what you get is people leaping on stage and taking the place of the character and using their own experience.”
But fundamentally it is a piece of drama, he insists. “I don’t particularly like plays which bash you over the head with issues. You have to care for the characters and want them to win.
“My job is to create a situation which will have connections with the audience and present a Cathy who is not hugely different from themselves and who they care for.”
Cathy is at the Crucible Studio on Tuesday and Wednesday but there are still tickets for Cast, Doncaster, on January 18.