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I, DANIEL BLAKE at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Daniel Blake is a working man, he’s had a tough life, and he’s a widower who lives to help others. The stage adaptation of the hard-hitting Ken Loach film of the same name does not pull punches in what is both a teardown of an inexcusably dysfunctional but also an ode to the working class.

Cast of I, Daniel Blake in the stage premiere at Northern Stage.
Cast of I, Daniel Blake in the stage premiere at Northern Stage.

The play opens with Katie (Bryony Corrigan) and her daughter Daisy (Jodie Wilde), being assigned to a council flat in Newcastle, a long way from the London they know and love. The flat is cold, the heating is too expensive, and food is scarce. Passing stranger Dan Blake takes kindly to the struggling mother and daughter, coming up with various tricks to get by. Blake is unrelentingly selfless, giving time, money and love to the mother and daughter who are in desperate need of it, and it is immensely moving to see someone give so much to those in need.

We could all learn from Daniel Blake. But Loach and Dave Johns (writer) want us to learn from something else. Throughout the play, Blake is trying to get a jobseeker’s allowance, but isn’t medically fit for work, and his application for alternative benefits is not being accepted. The benefits system in the United Kingdom is out of date and dysfunctional. It is presided over by a ruling class who are at best out of touch, and at worst classist, willfully ignorant and uncaring. Blake gives all he has, but it is increasingly not enough, the system is exposed as wanting and incompetent.

The performances are at the heart of this piece. David Nellist is brilliant as Blake himself and embodies the Loach/Nellist ode to the goodness of humanity. There are moments in this play where the writing becomes a little too prescriptive, where the subtext seeps into the audience only to be openly stated in a long monologue. I am in lockstep with the message of this play and recognise the importance of this message, but I think the audience might engage more personally and directly if we are left to consider and work our way through this experience ourselves.

I have strong personal reservations about Ken Loach’s record on certain issues. That does not change that this is an urgent piece of theatre that stays true to a revelatory source material, that hits home. I leave the theatre infuriated, the play makes me want to get out and get involved in change. So they must be doing something right.

4 stars

Review by Tom Carter

Adapted by David Johns from the film directed by Ken Loach, written by Paul Laverty, and produced by Rebecca O’Brien for Sixteen Films.

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.

TUE 24 – SAT 28 OCT 2023

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1 thought on “I, DANIEL BLAKE at Theatre Royal Stratford East”

  1. Just tonight 27.10 and tomorrow night 28.10 for you to catch this excellent production – the audience was transfixed. I’ve never been to the theatre and heard people around me sobbing. Don’t miss it!

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