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I, Daniel Blake | Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

A single mother struggling to make ends meet to support her daughter. A young teenage girl teased at school because she cannot afford proper sanitation. A middle-aged man unable to return to work because of a heart attack, and yet denied access to the proper financial support. What do these people have in common? A messed-up system. A system which has refused to look upon the havoc that it wreaks. A system which feeds on the desperation of those unfortunate enough to ever have to rely upon it. That needs to change.

It was said by the writer of this piece, Dave Johns, that whilst adapting the award-winning screenplay for this show, he wanted to make the story as relevant as possible by bringing hope to the audience that light follows even the darkest of times. Sadly, he found that not much had changed since the movie was released in 2016. In fact, the cost-of-living crisis affects more people now than it did at the time. Although seemingly disheartening, I, Daniel Blake echoes one particular message: you have been given a voice – use it. This message is relevant to any audience, whether they are in a similar situation to the characters on stage, or they are just hearing about it on the news. We all have the power to stand up and demand change, it is our right and duty to do so. 

The writing and direction by Dave Johns and Mark Calvert, respectively, are simply unmatched. The script is relevant, heartbreaking, but also at times also quite humorous. It brings to life a good balance of the harsh realities of life, and of the little happiness that can come from it. The staging of the show itself is minimalistic, with frequent use of an overhead screen which features excerpts from politicians’ views on subjects like universal credit or housing. It also features several advertisements from job searching companies, or government propaganda, which brings to the piece an extra layer of relevance. Further, it reminds the audience that although the story may be fictitious, it is somebody’s truth. 

The role of Daniel Blake was interpreted by David Nellist, who was simply outstanding, conveying a heartbreaking reality of what a dehumanising system can do to the kindest of souls. Playing alongside Nellist in the role of Katie Jenkins is Bryony Corrigan, who took on the part of the struggling mother who must resort to the direst solutions to help her and her daughter (played by Jodie Wild) survive. Alongside this fantastic trio is Kema Sikazwe, taking on the role of China, a young man who lives in Daniel’s building. This character is an interesting one as he provides a sort of comedic relief to the audience, communicating the hope that remains in the younger generation, whilst also portraying its futility. What we come to realise is that these people, as a result of a sanctioning system, do not live – they barely survive. These characters are as real as can get – they embody the harsh realities of life in a society where the government decides to be oblivious to the problems at hand, and at the same time, show the kindness and compassion that comes even in the darkest of times.  

In a modern-day society, it is shocking that such a message would resonate with so much of the population. But the reality is that this problem will not cease to exist so long as politicians keep ignoring its existence. I, Daniel Blake shows that we have the power to stand up and demand change, and in times like these, it is our duty to do so. It is a vital and touching story which needs to be told.

This show is on the tour’s last stop at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford until the 18th of November. Tickets are available now and can be purchased here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review


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