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Harrowing ‘work of fiction’ shines light on modern horror of poverty

Micky Cochrane as a homeless man in I, Daniel Blake. Photo (c) Pamela Raith.

I Daniel Blake, Belgrade Theatre, until 11 November.

The critically acclaimed stage premiere of the multi-award-winning film, adapted by Dave Johns – co-produced by Tiny Dragon Productions and English Touring Theatre in association with Northern Stage. Directed by Mark Calvert.

Review by Annette Kinsella

Ever since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to highlight poverty and greed in Victorian England, there has been a tradition of using art to shine a light on social ills. It’s depressing to think that 180 years later, we’re no further on in battling the same problems that Dickens saw. But as I Daniel Blake, the latest play by Nuneaton-born writer and director Ken Loach proves, that’s the situation we’re in.

Following the story of carpenter Daniel Blake (David Nellist- not THAT one), neighbour Katie (Bryony Corrigan) and her daughter Daisy (Jodie Child), Loach’s England is every bit as harsh and cruel as the one inhabited by Dickens’ Scrooge. But unlike Dickens, there is no happy redemptive ending for Daniel and co.

Daniel is a carpenter declared unfit for work by a GP but forced to apply for jobs he has no chance of doing to gain eligibility for benefits. Katie is a single mum running from an abusive relationship and Daisy is trying to negotiate a new school plagued by bullies who mock her for her lack of personal hygiene, brought about by her straitened circumstances.

David Nellist. Photo (c) Pamela Raith.

Forced to fight the system every step of the way, the audience palpably feels the frustration of the protagonists as they try to steer a course through a punitive regime which seems to expressly punish the needy rather that lift them from poverty.

The action is punctuated by real-life quotes from speeches and tweets by current and recent politicians, bookended by Damian Green who, when quizzed on Daniel Blake as a social commentary, answered it was a ‘work of fiction’.

But the line between fiction and reality becomes increasingly blurred as Blake, finally driven to a criminal act of rebellion as he faces starvation, calls out the broken promises made from Whitehall over the last three years – the 40 new hospitals that failed to materialise, the 50,000 new nurses and the 20,000 policemen and women never recruited.

Jodie Wild as Daisy and Bryony Corrigan as Katie. Photo (c) Pamela Raith.

It’s impossible to single out any cast member for particular praise as they were all excellent. From the main characters to the supporting cast members (Kema Sikazwe, Janine Leigh and Micky Cochrane), who play local bureaucrats at the job centre to blank-faced perfection, all bring a startling authenticity to the action. Their very human struggles, and their determination to make the best of their bleak situations, throw the lack of compassion and brutality inherent in the system into sharp relief.

In possibly the most heartrending scenes of the play – up against stiff competition – we watch aghast as a starving Katie shovels cold baked beans from the foodbank into her mouth as tears course down her cheeks. It’s tough viewing – against which Green’s assertion that ‘this is a work of fiction’ rings hollow. Less of a work of fiction, it seems, and more a horror documentary.

For more details, to book tickets and to watch the trailer, go to:


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