‘This is not fiction’.
This is the phrase that covers the posters for ‘I, Daniel Blake’, the new stage adaptation of Ken Loach’s 2016 film of the same title. When the film, which depicts the life of Dan as he battles against the state, jumping through hoops as he is declared fit to work against doctor’s orders, was released it was commented upon in the house of commons, where politicians declared it a work of fiction. But in today’s world, where there are more food banks than McDonalds and poverty is forever on the rise, this piece is timelier and more realistic than ever.
Dan (played by David Nellist) is recovering from a heart attack, his doctor tells him that he is not ready to return to work, but to the department of work and pensions, he’s fit to work and in order to receive his benefits, he must apply for jobs.
Katie (Bryony Corrigan) is a single mother, forced to move from London to Newcastle in order to get a council flat. When her benefits are withheld, she and Daisy (Jodie Wild) are living hand to mouth, and Katie is at breaking point.
In a world of zero-hour contracts, online applications, politicians making promises in the Commons, online and in televised debates and the cycle of signing on, this production shines a light on those who are forgotten by the system, those who fall through the cracks and the lengths that some people have to go to in order to survive.
Nellist, Corrigan and Wild are all so believable in their portrayals of Dan, Katie, and Daisy that the audience hangs on their every word, wills them on, and more than anything hopes that they will get what they need. There are no happy endings here, you aren’t hoping that they will suddenly solve everything and live in a world that is perfect, you simply want them to have enough to get by, enough money to put real meals on the table, enough security to live somewhere safe and secure, it’s not much you would think, but that’s what they need.
Kema Sikazwe, Micky Cochrane and Janine Leigh play various characters including job centre workers, government officials and employers. Sikazwe’s China is desperate to beat the system, to make his own way and you feel for him.
Rhys Jarman’s clever design uses just a few shelves and desks to create offices, flats and food banks, but it is the projected billboard that stands out as impactful. Throughout the show, recordings of politicians talking about the country and changes they want to make to it are both heard and depicted as tweets as political slogans about improving the country, employment and support are plastered across the screen, occasionally peeling to reveal something different underneath, giving the impression of how promises and shiny new ideas are sometimes used to cover up things that people don’t like talking about or perhaps don’t want to admit.
There are many moments in this production that are simply heart-breaking, We see Dan and Katie at their absolute lowest, and you are taken on that journey with them. What makes it all the more a harder watch is the painful truth of it all. We know that there are people who are really facing these daily struggles, the choices between food or heat, the battles with the state and the struggles with work. This is a piece that should make you feel both sad and angry, and it achieves that with ease.
Overall, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ stands true to its slogan ‘This is not Fiction’, it is brutal, honest and painfully real. If the news stories and protests are not enough to show you what is happening to many in this country, this show will do just that.