A bit of a departure for me from all the camp nonsense I’ve been watching lately. I’d never seen this before and whilst I’ve never been homeless (well not in the true sense of having nowhere I could go) I have enough experience of privately rented accommodation to find much of this drama depressingly familiar. It’s the story of Cathy, a woman whose spirit and youthful optimism is slowly but surely crushed by uncaring bureaucrats who are so detached from reality that they are unable to understand the series of circumstances which led to her struggle.
It all moves very fast at the beginning of the play. She meets and marries a lorry driver called Reg and they eventually have two children. He has an accident which leaves him unable to work for a while, so the rent doesn’t get paid. The landlady is understanding and allows them to defer the rent but shortly afterwards she dies, and this is where Cathy’s life starts to unravel. The landlady’s relative reclaims the property and evicts Cathy and her family…and things just go from bad to worse as they end up trapped in a downward spiral leading to poverty and homelessness.
Rather than trying to understand her circumstances the welfare officers and homeless shelter authorities remain blinkered, judgmental and inflexible, and blame Cathy and her husband for the situation they are in, insisting she “sort herself out”. Initially calm and stolid, towards the end of the play Cathy ends up losing her patience, becoming angry, frustrated and tearful which merely reinforces the shelter authorities’ view of her as a flakey individual who can’t bring up her children properly.
To say I ‘enjoyed’ this play would be the wrong choice of word, but it certainly made an impression which has stayed with me through the following day. In one memorable scene, Reg sneaks into the (women only) homeless shelter. Initially pleased to see him, it soon becomes clear he’s only after one thing, and she ends up in floods of tears while he continues kissing her, seemingly oblivious to the extent of her distress.
The ‘docu-drama’ style was very effective, with the main narrative interspersed with vox-pop style doorstep interviews with local residents who add even more background colour and detail with talk of rat infestation and racial prejudice to reinforce the point. Like I said, depressingly familiar.
I found that I was genuinely unsure whether some of these characters were actors or not. And talking of the acting…did people really speak like that or was that BBC cockney?! The stark monochrome photography enhanced the bleakness of it all, and I wondered whether it would have had the same effect in colour.
So it made for rather uncomfortable viewing – on the one hand a sad and depressing mirroring of our 21st century problems, and on the other, a fascinating peek a half century into the past. I’m glad I finally got to see this play.