I, Daniel Blake 'more relevant than ever' as film adapted for the stage

  • Video report by Kris Jepson

The lead actor in Ken Loach's award-winning film, I, Daniel Blake, has adapted the movie into a stage play.

Working with Newcastle's Northern Stage, Dave Johns, who is also from Newcastle, has written the adaptation, which premieres in the city on Wednesday 31 May 2023.

He told ITV News Tyne Tees: "The reason why I was adapting it is because nothing really has changed from when the film first came out. It’s got worse really, you know, with the cost of living rise and that."

Ken Loach, who created the film in 2016, has given his blessing for the stage version. He said: "This story is more relevant now than ever. And who better to put it on stage than Dave Johns, the original Daniel Blake?"

Dave Johns has adapted the film for the stage, which opens in Newcastle on Wednesday 31 May. Credit: ITV News

The play follows the same main characters, though Johns chose David Nellist to play his role of Daniel Blake.

Bryony Corrigan plays Katie, a single mother who is forced to move to the North East from London due to the social housing crisis.

Johns said the play delves deeper into the backstory of Daniel and Katie and "brings it up-to-date" to include issues surrounding the cost of living crisis.

He added: "I think it’s a perfect time for it because we’re able to bring the story up to date and when the film won all the awards, the Palme d’Or, the Bafta and all that, it kept it in the news, you know.

"People had bought into it because it reflected what was happening at the time in 2016.

"People suddenly realised that this could happen to anybody - their dad, their mum, their auntie, their daughter - and I think now it’s got an even more powerful voice."

A successful standup comedian, Johns, has also injected more humour into the play to lighten its content.

He said: "I think the powerfulness of the story is that these people come together in adversity, you know, where they both have to try and sort of get through it, with humour.

"I mean there’s a lot of humour in the play, because this is a very tough story, so you have to have some humour. People use their humour to get through hard times."

Actors taking part in a technical rehearsal prior to its opening night. Credit: ITV News

Johns took the cast to a food bank in Newcastle as research for the roles. He said the experience would stay with them forever, but gave them a good grounding to base their characters.

He said: "We met a lady at the food bank who a couple of years ago was donating to the food bank and now she’s in a position where she’s having to now go to the food bank.

"I think the cast that we’ve got know the story they’ve got to tell, because they were very moved by the stories that people were telling them about their life, you know."

Kema Sikazwe, who was brought up in Newcastle's Westend, plays China in the play - the same character he played in the film. Coming from an area of the North East that has deprivation and poverty, he said he recognises the themes of the adaptation.

He said: "For me Newcastle is like home for me, and again, I know a lot of people who’ve been in that situation. Spreading this message and getting it out there as much as we can, it’s good, it will spark debates again.

"It will get people talking and hopefully, you know, more change."

Kema Sikazwe plays the same character, China, as he played in the film. Credit: ITV News

He added that the stage version can be a more intimate experience for the viewer than the original film version.

He said: "You can feel the story more. You can understand it more, I think. Stage has a really, really beautiful way of getting a message across and every single show is going to be different as well and I love doing that in shows as well."

The stage adaptation runs in Newcastle until 10 June and then tours the UK, before returning the Northern Stage in September.

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