Inside the Greenroom: A Closer Look at I, Daniel Blake

“I want people to get angry. I want them to be furious.”

Actor Dave Johns, who played Daniel Blake in Ken Loach’s BAFTA and Palme D’Or-winning cost-of-living drama I, Daniel Blake, has adapted the story for stage, shining a spotlight on the continued struggles and resilience of those caught in the grip of a broken system.

Watch the creative team explain how they are confronting social injustice head-on, or scroll down to read an interview with Johns about what audiences can expect to experience from this production.

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Dave Johns on adapting this cost-of-living drama for stage

Interviewed by Natasha Tripney
I Daniel Blake rehearsal photo. Dave Johns, wearing a black hoodie, smiles at a man wearing a white t-shirt. Behind Johns, a graffitied wall.
Photo by Vox Fox Promotions

“Things haven’t got better, they’ve got worse,” says Dave Johns, the comedian and former brickie who made his name in I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach and Paul Laverty’s Palme d’Or-winning 2016 film about a middle-aged widower who is denied benefits and deemed fit for work despite recently suffering a major heart attack.

Johns has now adapted the film for the stage, in a new production which will be directed by Mark Calvert and open at Northern Stage ahead of a national tour. I, Daniel Blake, says Johns, is a film “about ordinary people caught in a welfare system that doesn’t listen to them, and that seems to be set up to thwart them. With the cost-of-living crisis and all that, it’s perfect timing.”

Since the film’s release the number of food banks has increased dramatically. The Newcastle West End Food Bank reported a 39% increase in the number of food parcels issued in the last year alone. According to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation poverty report, 1 in 5 people (22%) in the UK are now living in poverty, of working-age adults lone parents are by far the most likely of any family type to be struggling, and child poverty is even higher at 31%. The stage version will reflect the financial pressures people are under today.

I Daniel Blake rehearsal photo. A woman looks shocked as she talks to a man wearing a white shirt. They are surrounded by blue shelves, mocked up to look like a food bank.
Photo by Vox Fox Promotions
I Daniel Blake rehearsal photo. Assistant Director Siobhan McAuley, wearing a black tank top, polka dot trousers and black Dr Martens, and Movement Director Martin Hylton, wearing a grey t-shirt and Adidas-branded tracksuit bottoms, lead the I Daniel Blake cast through a scene. Behind them, a graffitied wall.
Photo by Vox Fox Promotions

“I’m a great fan of Paul Laverty. He has his finger on the pulse about politics, so for Paul to trust me with this story was a great honour,” says Johns, though David Nellist will take on the role of Daniel. “I’m a bit too old to remember all those lines,” he laughs. “I wanted to pass it on to another actor.”

Johns did not simply want to recreate the film on stage. “I didn’t want it to be a period piece,” he says. “We have this great team,” including designer Rhys Jarman, Ross Millard, from Sunderland post-punk band The Futureheads, who is writing the music, and AV design and projections by Matthew Brown for PixelLux who recently worked on Bonnie and Clyde in the West End. “It’s not going to be a kitchen-sink drama, it’s going to be quite stylised.”



Taking a cue from British political campaign group Led by Donkeys, the production will use the government’s own social media output to highlight its hypocrisy. “Their tweets will be projected on a huge billboard that is part of the set.” The audience will see “what they’ve been saying about the benefits system, homelessness, and the cost-of-living crisis. And then, underneath it, we will see the lives of these people on stage, playing it truthfully.”

“When I told Ken [Loach] about the tweets, his eyes lit up,” says Johns.

I Daniel Blake Rehearsal Photo. A man wearing a navy-coloured windbreaker jacket looks down with a concerned look at a black briefcase held by a man wearing a white shirt, light green undershirt and blue jeans.
Photo by Vox Fox Promotions

Be part of the conversation

On Wed 5 July, we were joined by Mark Richardson, Manager of Exeter Foodbank, as part of our post-show discussion with the cast to talk about the themes of the show:

I, Daniel Blake represents the absolutely heart-breaking reality of what we see in foodbanks every single day across Britain. I remember watching it for the first time and thinking that this could not happen in our homeland – but it did, and it does. Every single day, to people who are trying so hard to do the right thing.”

Mark explained how people can get involved in making a difference for the real-life Daniels and Katies who are living through the experiences highlighted in the show:

“[The show] was amazing – it was incredibly moving and well done… I think that the play has had a galvanising effect – if there was ever a reason to carry on with the work and with the campaigning, it was highlighted by the show. I would ask that any possible chance you get, please get involved with the #GuaranteeOurEssentials campaign. This campaign could be a game changer for people who are on Universal Credit.”

Find out more about Exeter Foodbank and the #GuaranteeOurEssentials campaign, and how you can get involved in supporting them both, by following the links below.

Exeter Foodbank #GuaranteeOurEssentials
Exeter Foodbank Logo

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