Made In Dagenham
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
22 September 2016
Following its brief West End run, this co-production between the Wolsey and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, strips the musical of big budget distractions and returns the show to its roots. Director Douglas Rintoul places it in the hands of an exceptional ensemble of actor-musicians, and the result is a joyful and powerful evening celebrating equal rights. Based on the film of the same name, the musical charts the determination, humour, defiance and skills of the women at the Ford Dagenham car plant who strike for equal pay in 1968.
The production opens with an effective sequence beginning with Teresa May’s speech at number 10, and a soundtrack going back in time from the derelict factory to the thriving plant of 1968. (Excellent design by Hayley Grindle). Immediately this underscores the show’s theme, that the more things change the more some things remain the same. Richard Bean’s book refuses to look at the past with rose-tinted glasses, the sexism and attitudes are genuinely shocking to our ears now, and the music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas are, at times, sharp as a sewing machine’s needle.
Daniella Bowen is excellent as Rita, reluctant leader of the campaign, and she portrays the stress that Rita goes through, and her determination, with pathos and humour throughout. Perhaps the most poignant character is her friend and shop steward Connie, who plays the Union game for years, before succumbing to breast cancer and bequeathing her TUC speech and spirit to Rita, a beautifully sensitive performance by Wendy Morgan. Angela Bain almost steals the show as sweary Beryl, revelling in the best one-liners of the show, and Alex Tomkins brings great sympathy and likeability to Eddie, Rita’s husband, despite his ingrained sexist attitudes!
The musical is not without its flaws, and would benefit from cutting a couple of first act songs and male characters. Prime Minister Harold Wilson is reduced to a caricature, a buffoon, and the comedy falls far short of the Beyond the Fringe style satire that it is aiming for. Too often the men are portrayed as two-dimensional villains- where this works, however, is in Jeffrey Harmer’s Trump inspired Mr Tooley, the American owner whose song Made in America adds a chill to the proceedings. Essentially, however, this is a show that celebrates women, and is stronger when they are the focus. This is even true of the political scene, with Claire Machin an excellent Barbara Castle, a truly inspiring woman. Rita’s call to arms number, Stand Up, is a triumphant climax to a show with plenty of heart and bite that brought the audience to its feet!
Made In Dagenham runs at the New Wolsey Theatre until 15 October 2016