Sunday, June 16

I, Daniel Blake – Birmingham Rep

There’s a palpable, visceral fury coursing through the core of “I, Daniel Blake” which makes for compelling drama and infuriating truth. For those of us who first came across the story in its cinematic incarnation it’s good to see it has lost none of its bite, bile and bitterness. And, though the theatre version loses some of the reportage and cinéma vérité authenticity in its imagery, it more than makes up for it in heart and soul driven home by some startling and sincere performances.

It’s the story of a good, honest man. Not a hero, not special. Just straight and centred ensnared in the obscene and labyrinthine benefits system inflicted on this country by Tory administrations. The tweets and voice grabs of living, breathing politicians expounding the virtues of their cruel system whilst before us we witness living, breathing humans battered, bruised and belittled by vile, monolithic bureaucracy clearly stacked against them without care or humanity. David Nellist imbues Daniel Blake with the moral integrity we sense in all good people and presents a man savaged and lacerated by our callous and cold-blooded benefits structure. Bewildered and aggravated he continues to hold his life together and meeting Katie (played by Bryony Corrigan with a breath-taking honesty) and her daughter Daisy (Jodie Wild) gives him a surrogate family to care for and a purpose to live for.

Director Mark Calvert doesn’t miss a beat of the action both internally and externally and deftly choreographs his actors through multiple scenes of escalating anxiety. The script is adapted from Paul Laverty’s screenplay by the very actor who embodied Daniel Blake on screen, Dave Johns, and a mighty fine job he makes of it finely transitioning the piece from its cinematic origin into a theatrical regeneration ensuring the story will be retold over and over for as long as it needs to be heard.

All the cast honour the piece and deliver truthfully honest performances with never a single movement, gesture or word out of place. It has a stunning unity and coherence with a full company pulling together in the same direction telling an urgent and desperate story. Mike Cochrane and Janine Leigh complete the cast with a number of thoroughly realised performances the latter especially pernicious as the soulless benefits clerk.

It is so heartening to see The Rep programming work of such importance and substance and let’s hope more work of this standard is brought our way in the future. Truly a very important play.

Playing until 24th June, https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/i-daniel-blake/

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 14th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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