Tuesday, December 5

I, Daniel Blake – Liverpool Playhouse

In 2016 Ken Loach’s groundbreaking film rocked the heart of the establishment, forcing politicians to speak of the issues it raised in parliament and for one to remark it was ‘a work of fiction’.  Daniel Blake may have been a fictional character, but the powerful story was anything but fiction.  People were trapped in the universal credit system and the poorest in our society were the ones who were forgotten and ignored.

The actor who played Daniel, Dave Johns, has now adapted the screenplay for the stage and tiny dragon productions are touring it to appreciative audiences around the country.  This play is still relevant and whilst the cost-of-living crisis hits once again the poorest in our society, the message that Daniel Blake is a human being who deserves respect resonates loudly in auditoriums.

Surely most know the story – a decent working man Daniel (David Nellist) has had a heart attack and ordered by his doctor not to return to work, but the benefit system is so complicated and inaccessible to a man who has no computer skills, he has his claim rejected. In order to get any money at all he must prove he is looking for work. It’s a vicious circle – frustrating and unfair – a minefield of bureaucracy and senseless officialdom he cannot navigate. Nellist is sympathetic and believable. The benefits officer shows no compassion or understanding played convincingly by Janine Leigh.

Into his life comes a young woman Katie (Bryony Corrigan) and her daughter Daisy (Jodie Wild) who have been re-housed from London but are unable to get any money for weeks and are forced to use food banks.  Daniel is kind to them and becomes a sort of father figure. There are some touching moments between them played sensitively by Nellist and Corrigan.  When Katie goes to the foodbank we are physically moved by her desperation.

Johns has brought this up to date, making it still significant and gut-wrenching – there are times you will feel your stomach churn and some really emotional moment when sobs were heard in the darkness. I felt a tear trickle, I must confess.   The story is still worth hearing, we need to be reminded but even more, politicians need to be reminded.

This production directed by Mark Calvert gives us projections of quotes from Tory Politicians as a juxtaposition to the drama. They were greeted with justified contempt by the audience, who also applauded the speech given by the homeless man (Micky Cochrane). Everything he said might be true and worthy of saying but I felt this rant took away the power from the last speech – I am a man not a dog- which Daniel left after his death.

The set was economic moving shelves to give us the different locations – it was stark and basic and presumably it wanted to create that feel of emptiness.  This was the first night and a few things needed attention: the amount of haze meant actors were sometimes in a fog. The actor’s voice projection especially at the beginning, was low and sometimes the energy wasn’t quite what it could be – China’s rap scene played by Kema Sikazwe needed more punch. 

Nevertheless, the audience were emotionally moved and on their feet.  This universal story of a so-called insignificant man’s fight to be heard and be treated with respect really brought home the message. It is still as relevant and powerful as ever and should be seen by a new generation.

Reviewer: Bev Clark

Reviewed: 19th September 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.