The Wednesday Play: Edna The Inebriate Woman (1971)

Back to social realism again. Except not.

1966’s Cathy Come Home was perhaps the most influential play on British television. Dealing with homelessness, its director Ken Loach used documentary techniques to give the play a heightened sense of realism, to make the plight of the homeless involved less artificial.

But in 1971, Edna The Inebriate Woman went in the opposite direction. Also written by Jeremy Sanford, who himself lived as a homeless person to research the play, it stars Patricia Hayes from the Benny Hill Show as the eponymous Edna – although given she uses so many false names in the play, maybe that’s not her name either. In it, the Chaplin-like Edna tramps streets and lanes looking for a home. She goes through lodging houses, psychiatric hospitals, Holloway prison, derelict barns and refuges, bounced around by the social services and the police and the unwanted attentions of other tramps. Only a hostel run by the idealistic Josie (Barbara Jefford), is welcoming.

The Inebriate Woman differs from Cathy Come Home not least in its lush colour photography but also in its writing style: much like the inebriated Edna, the story is fragmented, with scenes interrupting each other, and there’s also comedy interspersed with the moments of misery. All the same, this is a powerful play about the misery of homelessness.