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Cathy review at the Pleasance Theatre, London – ‘impassioned’

Hayley Wareham and Cathy Owen in Cathy at the Pleasance, London. Photo: Pamela Raith Hayley Wareham and Cathy Owen in Cathy at the Pleasance, London. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Inspired by Ken Loach’s seminal 1966 TV drama Cathy Come Home, Ali Taylor’s reworking brings the story up to date, pitting the protagonist against exploitative landlords, inescapable poverty, and an under-funded, crushingly impersonal housing system.

Cathy Owen plays the title character with real heart, movingly charting her descent from stolid provider to homeless and helpless. Hayley Wareham also stands out as her resourceful but increasingly frustrated teenage daughter.

Matt Lewis’ sound design has a significant presence – sometimes subtle, sometimes jarring – a constant background burble of mumbling voices, traffic noise, and squealing drills. Never overwhelming the action, this soundscape is nonetheless impossible to ignore, adding stifling weight to the show’s oppressive atmosphere. Underscoring the scale of the crisis, snippets of recorded interviews play between scenes, but the device is underused, an added texture rather than a full hearing of these testimonies.

After the interval, the company revises the preceding scenes in forum, bringing audience members onstage to offer suggestions and solutions for the character’s troubles. Far from feeling forced, this section genuinely builds on the scripted material, thanks largely to director Adrian Jackson’s easy rapport, and some excellent improvisational work from the cast.

The result is a lively debate, which skilfully encourages us to engage with the play’s pressing themes. At a time of escalating house prices and entrenched inequality, a touching and troubling productions like this may be just as urgent now as they were half a century ago.

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Cardboard Citizens’ impassioned investigation brings home the human cost of the housing crisis