Powerful and Raw: ‘I, Daniel Blake’ Review

I Daniel Blake
Image credit: Pamela Raith Photography


“There are more foodbanks than McDonalds in this country.” Powerfully gripping, I, Daniel Blake, directed by Mark Calvert, presents a snapshot of society often forgotten about: people struggling with everyday basic needs—like the toss up of electricity or food, shampoo or bus fares. Masterfully performed by the English Touring Theatre, I, Daniel Blake is a tour de force of a show which will have you somewhere between fury, resentment and most importantly hope.

Adapted from the award-winning film of the same name by Dave Johns, I, Daniel Blake isn’t pulling any punches. Daniel Blake (David Nellist) has just had a heart attack and finds himself caught somewhere in a system designed to brainwash with phone call hold music, which he rightly detests. Fighting the tide of the “benefit” system he comes across Katie (Bryony Corrigan) and Daisy (Jodie Wild), a mother and daughter shunted out of London, all the way north of Watford to Newcastle, due to social housing shortages. Cut off and adrift, the three form an unlikely bond as the welfare system realities come to harsh light.

Dynamic staging sees the set transform from Katie and Daisy’s dingy new flat, to the local council offices, the job centre, a food bank and beyond. The changes are clever and subtly done, reminiscent of the cycles people can get stuck in that become seemingly impossible to break. Each character is compelling, with performers handling the gravity of the script with exceptional tenderness. Wit and charm are also in abundance, and the sheer humanity of the performance is as captivating as it is devastating.

“I never thought it would be this difficult.” Katie’s words echo a helpless plea around Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, jarringly juxtaposed with recordings of MPs, including the likes of David Cameron and Theresa May, in their ringing self-congratulation. The verbatim from parliamentary sessions throws into sharp contrast the disparity between the politicians and the people. As well as shining the spotlight on one end of society, I, Daniel Blake forms a communal call to arms. It stares the audience in the face and asks if we can’t trust the systems in place, what can we do to help?

Whilst isolation comes to the fore, a sense of community is explored. Both through savvy youths (Kema Sikazwe as China is excellent), homeless people and those who reel off the damaging sensationalised tabloid headlines, a stark picture is painted of today’s society. I, Daniel Blake is relentless—it wont ever really let you go. It is a humbling, eye-opening foray into something that needs to change. Performed by a hugely talented cast, here is a show that should be seen by everyone.

Words by Hannah Goldswain

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