Preview: Cathy

Cardboard Citizens theatre company has remade Cathy Come Home, Ken Loach’s groundbreaking play about homelessness from the 1960s

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When Ken Loach’s television play Cathy Come Home made its debut 50 years ago, the narrative became an instrument for social change.

Outraged audiences were enlightened about homelessness, and the film contributed to a gradual shift in how the general public responded to vulnerable people across the country, demonstrating the power of art to effect social and political change.

First broadcast on BBC1, Cathy Come Home was written as a critical social commentary of its time, but earlier this year Loach said he believed that the issues affecting homeless and vulnerable people are worse now than they were in 1966.

“There are more people made desperate by having no home now than when Cathy Come Home was first made,” Loach said in an interview with the Guardian. “Then, we still had council housing… Now, we only have the market. And the market has failed. It gives us luxury apartments in tower blocks for investors while families live in over-crowded single rooms. The lesson from Cathy is that we need to plan – for council housing, for secure jobs alongside the houses and for a proper infrastructure for schools and healthcare.”

To mark the film’s 50th anniversary, theatre company Cardboard Citizens is revisiting the play to explore whether Cathy’s story could happen today, and how it might happen differently in a modern setting.

The theatre company has developed a new narrative inspired by themes addressed in Cathy Come Home, using research from interviews with people who have experienced homelessness in the present day.

“It’s 50 years since Ken Loach made Cathy Come Home and it’s 25 years since Cardboard Citizens came into existence,” says artistic director Adrian Jackson. “Anniversaries felt like a good time to deal with the subject matter Ken Loach deals with and try to imagine what would be different for a Cathy now and what would be the same.”

Founded by Jackson, Cardboard Citizens invites homeless people to collaborate with professional theatre makers on live productions, which they tour in theatres, prisons and hostels.

Their new production, Cathy, explores the insecurity of renting and the lack of social housing, and how these factors contribute to modern homelessness.

“Our character starts life with a secure tenancy with her daughter and it spirals down when she gets a Section 21 notice to quit,” explains Jackson. “We’re looking at the insecurity of renting these days and how the odds are very much stacked against the tenant.

“We particularly wanted to look at what might cause a woman to be separated from her children. In Ken Loach’s film it’s a very savage version of social services that almost literally tear away Cathy’s children from her in a very brutal scene at a railway station at the end of the film.

“Nowadays the circumstances that might cause a woman to be separated from her children are different. But in another kind of way, just as brutal and painful for the people involved.”

After the performance audiences are invited to debate the issues addressed in the play, and Jackson hopes the discussions provoke an active response from the general public.

“The second half of our performance is a form of debate about the issues and it’s a very rich debate because it’s rare that these people with these different experiences come into the same room together and hear each other’s voices.

“That’s an important part of this show. It’s the opportunity to talk afterwards about what should be done about this, rather than just leave people stunned, shocked and in some cases surprised about what is going on in the world.”

Cathy is at Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 10-11 Jan, then visits Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Doncaster, Wakefield and Barnsley (

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