I, Daniel Blake

Two lives come together in an unlikely match. Dan is a carpenter; Geordie through and through who is on the mend after a heart attack. Katie has just arrived from London. She finally has a council house for herself and the kids even though its meant moving to an unknown part of the country where she doesn’t know her way around and has no friends or family.

Brillant performances and direction create a distressing and deeply moving piece of social theatre

This stage version of the BAFTA and Palme D’or award-winning 2016 film, I, Daniel Blake, by Ken Loach and Paul Laverty is an adaptation by Dave Johns who won the Best Actor award at the British Independent Film Awards and Best Newcomer at the EMPIRE Awards for his performance in the title role. He has clearly brought his profound understanding of the play to this stunning production. His skills as an actor and comedian have clearly played into the creation of a script that drives the strong characters, infuses scenes with humanity and balances the tragic within the cheerful. As Ken Loach has said, “This story is more relevant now than ever. And who better to put it on stage than Dave Johns, the original Daniel Blake?”

I, Daniel Blake is a social critique that reaches to the heart of the staggering disconnect between the fine words of self-aggrandising Tory politicians and the realities of life for people caught in the bureaucratic minefield of unemployment, housing and benefits claims. The elected elite are poignantly condemned by the their own mouths. As we hear extracts from speeches by the likes of Cameron, Johnson, Coffey and May their words appear on the back wall, equally elevated. Meanwhile, we continue to observes the struggles of Dan and Katie whose lives remain untouched by the rhetoric.

Bryony Corrigan plays single mum Katie with simplicity and passion; a woman just trying to do the best for herself and her daughter, Daisy (Jodie Wild). Having missed a job-seekers appointment and unable to afford housing in London, a place is found for her in Newcastle which she acccepts to give them both a roof over their heads and the prospect of a secure future. She sacrifices their life in the capital, the city they know so well, to become strangers in an alien environment. Here she goes to unimagined lengths to put bread on the table. Corrigan relates her predicament with heart-rending honesty and grim resignation in a performance that would move the hardest of hearts.

The warmth, hospitality and generosity of the locals up north is personified in the character of Daniel by David Nellist, who is a natural for the part. Originally from Wallsend, wedged between Newcastle and North Shields, his father worked in the shipyards. This is not just another acting job for him; it's as much a contribution to the sort of social campaigning of which the region is proud. Prior to the play’s tour he cycled 350 miles from London to Newcastle to raise awareness of the national crisis in food poverty. During rehearsals he was regularly seen at Newcastle’s West End Foodbank, having previously volunteered at his local food bank in Clapton, London, during the pandemic.

Daniel’s heart condition renders him unable to work on doctor’s orders. Though not an uncommon reason to be out of work, it seems to come as a surprise to those administering benefits and allowances for the unemployed and job seekers and conflicts with their own Work and Capability Assessment about which they did not consult his doctor. He decides to appeal and becomes trapped in the demands and procedures of the system. Janine Leigh does a convincing job as the claimants officer, talking the talk of a well-rehearsed script that spouts terms and conditions while raising barriers and failing to meet the needs of clients. As Daniel goes round in circles trying to resolve his predicament he has a chance meeting with Katie whom he befriends and assists. It’s a life-changing encounter for them both.

Kema Sikazwe (aka Kema Kay), who was spotted by Ken Loach on a visit to Newcastle, enthusiastically reprises his role from the film as China, a young wheeler-dealer merchant also befriended by Daniel, who takes to the streets with his dodgy trainers, revealing how the young and imaginative inventively try to survive. Meanwhile down at the local garden centre Harry Edwards (Micky Cochrane), the owner offers a glimmer of employment hope for Daniel that comes to nothing when the benefits system again gets in the way. Cochrane adeptly portrays the an initially likeable and helpful character who then turns nasty when Daniel is unable to take up the job offer. Without understanding Daniel’s predicament he labels him a benefits’ scrounger. In contrast, Wild, in her stage debut, movingly portrays the struggling daughter and turns out to be the one who lifts Daniel out of his depression.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2022 Poverty Report stated that some 14.5 million people are living in poverty in the UK. Four years earlier, The challenges of this situation, highlighted in I, Daniel Blake, were dismissed by the then Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, who simply pointed out that the film was a ‘work of fiction’, as though that made everything OK. Since then then the state of affairs has deteriorated. More than ever this play is a massive indictment of Tory government policy and the realities of life for people caught in the bureaucratic minefield of unemployment and benefits claims and those who can’t even contemplate becoming embroiled in it. Brilliant performances and direction create a distressing and deeply moving piece of social theatre that brings this message home.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Dan is a carpenter. A Geordie through and through. Just on the mend after a heart attack. 

Katie has just arrived from London. Finally got a council house for her and the kids. A fresh start. 

I, Daniel Blake is one of the most important stories of a generation. A glimpse behind the headlines and the stark reality of what happens when the political system is stacked against you.  With 14.5 million* people living in poverty in the UK, this is not fiction. It is reality. 

A touching and vital story of how people come together in the face of adversity and how sometimes creating a family to support you just isn’t enough.  The show is adapted for stage by Dave Johns who played Daniel Blake in the award winning 2016 film. 

*Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2022 Poverty Report. 

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