I, DANIEL Blake was filmed in 2015. Ken Loach and Paul Laverty created a parable of our times – but they are not a-changing.

At the time in Newcastle, there was one food bank. Dave Johns knows. He visited it as part of their research. Johns was playing the lead character, Daniel Blake, but now has adapted it for the stage. It finishes its run at the Traverse in Edinburgh today.

Of the first 66 performances of the show, it has received 66 standing ovations. I know, because both Johns and cast member Janine Leigh told me so. Leigh was taking a break from preparations for a show in Oxford, while Johns joined in from home.

Johns kicked us off by explaining how the theatrical version came about: “I was talking to Paul and Ken and said to them I would love to try and adapt Daniel Blake for the stage. By then, the only thing changed in the DWP was the on-hold music from Vivaldi. Everything else seemed to be the same, so just before Covid they said yeah, we would love you to try and do it.”

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What followed was a commission from Northern Stage, and Covid had another impact: “Maybe it was in a way good because when we came back from Covid, we were in an even worse position with the cost of living rise!”

By then there were eight food banks in Newcastle, as Johns explained further: “We have a statistic in the play that basically there are more food banks than McDonald’s. It seemed to be the right time to update it and bring a bit more of Katie’s life into the story.”

The stage version has plenty of unscripted audience participation which is very much to be theatrically welcomed, as Johns pointed out: “It’s a bit like in Shakespeare’s time when the groundlings would be shouting up political statements. And because we have a lot of tweets from this present government up on the screen about benefits and food banks which is playing above the action on the stage, it is really riling the audience up and getting them angry.”

It is an emotion devoutly to be wished, as he was quick to confirm: “It’s very powerful watching this. There is something else about watching it live in front of an audience. You write something and put it onstage, and you ask people what they think.

“We want to know, when they are watching as an audience member, what does this make you feel?

“I think that’s all you can ask. Make people angry and make people question where they put their tick in a box.”

Of all the cast, Leigh has one of the most difficult of jobs: “I play Sheila the DWP worker. She’s a jobsworth. In the film you have the nicer version who helps Daniel because she can, but Ann gets taken to her managers and gets told off for doing that because there’s a certain number of sanctions they’ve got to do.”

To mitigate the obvious anger hurled towards her character, Leigh had to find some levity to escape the confines of character: “What I’d do is, at after-show discussions, we say our name and who we are playing, and I say I play Sheila – I am not Sheila, I play Sheila – and that got a bit of a laugh.”

Johns continues: “There are people who are in the job centres and are job coaches who are genuinely trying to help, but there are loads of people who are jobsworths.”

Of the accusation DWP staff have quotas, Johns was quick to counter denials: “When we were researching for the play and especially the film, whistle-blowers did say that they do have quotas to be filled for sanctions. The system is making victims of the people who are using it and implementing it.”

The cast have been very affected, as Leigh explains: “At every venue, there are donations collected for the food bank and the hygiene bank.

“In Liverpool, there was a young couple who came past with Tesco bags, and they said great things about the play, and they were just donating food.

“It really got to us when Bryony – who plays Katie – started crying. We were like, what’s wrong, and she said ‘I’ve just processed what Davie says at the end of the play – can you please donate food for people? – and it’s like, mental.’ So, it really affects all of us.”

Johns was meticulous in making sure his new cast got to see what life was really like and visited a food bank which changed perceptions within the cast for Leigh: “Going to the food bank and talking to people was an eye-opener.

“There was one lady who used to donate to the food bank. She works. She is now going to the food bank. She hates it. I didn’t think it would affect us, but it has.”

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As for Johns, his passion and pride ended with a rousing rebuttal of what we need to wake up from our slumber: “They are starting it again now, saying people are playing the system, don’t want to work – be hard on them, the people who have nothing, crush them, put all your hate on them and then privatise everything and pay the shareholders.

“I think there should be more political theatre. There should be more anger. Because it is the only way you will get things to change.

“When you are poor, human dignity is taken away from you. What we try to show is that it’s the worst thing to happen to any human being, you have no choice.”