Review: I, Daniel Blake. Royal and Derngate Northampton.

I, Daniel Blake (the play) already had a high standard to reach after its award-winning film touched the hearts of many. The play lives up to every expectation I could have had as it is able to bring its own uniqueness as well as fulfil the ever important message.

The storyline follows a man called Daniel Blake who, after a serious heart attack, is rendered unable to work by his doctor. However, the state does not share these views as he is deemed to be physically healthy in other ways, and, despite his rapidly declining health condition, he is constantly having to wait for the welfare he so desperately needs. Throughout all of this, he’s still unable to get a job due to his health condition. He meets Katie and her daughter Daisy, who manage to get a council house but are struggling to get any other source of income. Katie suffers from many heart-breaking moments as she is forced into sex work to provide for her daughter – to afford simple things such as shampoo and sanitary products. There is also a contrasting character of a young man called China. Despite his condition he remains positive as he attempts to fight his way to a better life. Admirable as it is, the only profession he’s able to obtain is selling knockoff shoes, which furthers a very upsetting commentary that these people can only escape their lives of poverty through questionable means. The true heartbreak, although, is how easily this could have happened to anyone.

David Nellist’s performance as Daniel Blake definately is one to be remembered. Although the first act is quite slow paced the second act really picks up and we get to see a new side of the characters as they finally break under the complete lack of sympathy from the same state that was built to protect them. Of course, the most powerful moment that really exhibits his acting, is Daniel Blake’s iconic stand up to the council where he gets graffiti and sprays out his name and how he demands his approval for welfare. Afterwards he proceeds to joke darkly about it with his friend, being a little light-hearted even in his moment of complete anger and disappointment. For this he is praised as a hero who should have a statue, which I believe does take away from the point. The point that, although this is a powerful move against authority, what makes Daniel Blake so powerful is he is just a man. His story could be anyone. He had also been a hardworking tax payer before his tragic heart attack.

It would be criminal to talk about this play without mentioning the phenomenal work of Bryony Corrigan as Katie Jenkins. She gives Katie a wonderful personality we rarely get to see shine because she is constantly on the defence. To play a character alone is difficult, never mind such a dimensional character who covers their underlying personality. We find ourselves slowly warming up to her, which makes scenes such as the baked bean scene even more saddening to watch. Then, we feel anger in her behalf, watching her being dehumanised with desperation to survive after the system has just discarded her and her daughter for dead. As the play goes on, her fighting spirit finally starts to earn her a better quality of life, making it so much more impactful to see her hope crash down.

This story was released on film in 2016. I remember the great impact it had on me back in my sixth form classroom, seeing it for the first time. The sheer devastation all came rushing back at the thought of so many real people living this way. It was disturbing how close to our reality it was and still is, how it reminded me of my friend, somehow getting by on minimal government welfare, living with her dad who was unable to work due to his disability. How she had to work to afford their living and take care of her dad, leaving so little time for her to study and have a chance at a good university.  

Years on, there hasn’t been any positive change from the government, and with the cost of living crisis, more people are finding themselves in struggling situations that they would never have considered years ago. This play’s political commentary, despite incredibly wealthy, out of touch politicians claiming that it’s just a work of fiction, is as true as ever. This sombre, but necessary reminder is needed. Even in a country that boasts a top economy, 3.1 million people are left without basic hygiene products. It is comforting to see, however, how Ken Loach’s film has impacted so many people and created The Hygiene Bank, upheld by selfless volunteers taking on the role that the government should have fulfilled. Movements like these are so desperately needed, as the change can start with the masses. This production  is a reminder that through all the politics, at the end of the day we are all Daniel Blake.

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