If you could have a conversation with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say? The eponymous protagonist in Andrew Sharpe’s My Name is Cathy has little in the way of good news to offer her younger self – she’s spending her 50th birthday alone, having lost her job, her marriage and her kids, partly but by no means entirely through her own fault. What she does have to share, however, is the reassurance that little by little, with persistence and courage, things can and will get better.
Inspired by a real case from the writer’s days as a criminal lawyer, My Name is Cathy is a cleverly crafted drama that charts the downfall of a brilliant, successful and happily married teacher over the course of a few short years in the early 00s. It’s narrated by the older Cathy (Kat-Anne Rogers), a recovering alcoholic who only now has the hindsight and self-awareness to recognise the arrogance of her younger self (Sally Paffett) – and yet despite her best efforts she remains powerless to stop the bad choices, on both her own part and those of others, which will ultimately contribute to their ruin.
Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the play’s second act, “The Trial”, in which Adam Bottomley’s classroom set is quickly and efficiently converted into a courtroom, presided over by the ironically named Judge Goode (Edwin Flay). Here Cathy is forced to relive all over again the nightmare day she fought to keep her children and lost – the difference being that this time she understands the subtext of what’s going on, and the multiple ways that the male-dominated legal system was always set up to work against her. Consequently the scene descends into a kind of dark farce, which despite moments of humour is ultimately quite heartbreaking to watch.
While it’s not always easy viewing, the performances given by all three actors are compelling and convincing throughout. Kat-Anne Rogers is a likeable narrator, opening with an AA-style monologue in which she acknowledges her own shortcomings. Edwin Flay and Sally Paffett each take on two very different roles with great success; in both cases the dynamic of the relationship between their characters is – at times, uncomfortably – well portrayed.
Velenzia Spearpoint’s simply staged production charts the passing years with snippets of news reports and pop songs (the show’s playlist brings with it some great “haven’t heard it for ages” moments), which help to keep the audience engaged during scene and costume changes. This also combines well with the script’s commentary on the pressures and politics of the teaching profession – and yes, Michael Gove does make an appearance in that conversation.
My Name is Cathy is a moving and thoughtfully written play with a clever twist. The idea of older and younger Cathy being able to work through things together is undeniably poignant, but also adds a much-needed note of optimism to the play’s conclusion: after all, how much easier could certain moments in our lives have been if we’d known with absolute certainty that we would make it through and come out stronger on the other side? And on that reassuring thought… let’s hope this short run isn’t the last we’ve seen of Cathy.