STAGE REVIEW: I, Daniel Blake @ Northern Stage (31.05.023) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: David Nellist as Daniel Blake at Northern Stage

Ken Loach’s timeless film I, Daniel Blake has been given a new lease of life in this powerful stage adaptation. Written by Dave Johns, the original Daniel Blake in the 2016 film and directed by Mark Calvert, this new production is a like-for-like adaptation which perfectly captures the emotions of the film and the frustrations and desperations of both the audience and the characters.

Daniel Blake (David Nellist) has recently suffered a heart attack and whilst he has been barred from working by his doctor, he has been declared Fit to Work by the Department of Work and Pensions. Unable to receive an income any other way, Daniel must apply for Job Seeker’s Allowance whilst waiting for a decision from an unnamed decision maker over an appeal for Employment and Support Allowance.

Whilst in the DWP offices, Daniel meets Katie (Bryony Corrigan) and her daughter Daisy (Jodie Wild), who have been uprooted from the familiarity of London to Newcastle. Immediately sanctioned by the DWP, Daniel takes Katie and Daisy under his wing as they navigate their new home.

Nellist and Corrigan’s powerful performances are the true heart of the production; they are warm and caring to one another, yet too proud to ask for help. Their compassion for others and exasperation of the system they find themselves caught up in is incredibly raw. They try to find periods of warmth in the midst of what feels like a never-ending period of bleakness.

One of the most poignant moments in the film, when Katie devours a tin of baked beans in a food bank when her façade crumbles; it is perhaps even more emotional watching her crumple to the floor when you are only a few feet away.

I, Daniel Blake teaches the audience to be kind to one another, to help one another, and reminds you that this is not a work of fiction

Conservative MP Damian Green infamously referred to I, Daniel Blake as “a work of fiction”. The moments depicted in the play are perhaps even more relevant than they were in 2016. Quotes from Green, as well as David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Theresa May are played to the audience during scene changes to relay to the audience that this is not fiction. The audience does not need reminding. The clear contradictions between the scenes depicted and the quotes from Prime Minister’s Questions is perhaps even more poignant.

In the six years between the film and the stage adaptation, this story has become all the more important. As a member of the ensemble cries, in an even more politically charged scene, reminds the audience there are a record number of food banks; countless people could not afford to properly heat their homes last winter. And yet, the ensemble continues, the government plans to distract the public with their rhetoric to “stop the boats.” Those on the poverty line are continuously forgotten about.

There are numerous people in Katie and Daniel’s situations, caught up in scenarios they cannot unravel. They are continuously stuck on hold, threatened with sanctions, their fate held in the hands of an unknown decision maker who is unaware of Daniel and Katie’s story and situation, encapsulating the problem which enraptures the play and the reality outside it. People are reduced to numbers in a system without compassion and care.

I, Daniel Blake has been masterfully adapted for a new audience who are far more alert than ever before. It is impossible to leave the production without a lump in your throat. It teaches the audience to be kind to one another, to help one another, and reminds you that this is not a work of fiction.

I, Daniel Blake is at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Saturday 10th June

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