Review: Made In Dagenham, by Richard Bean, David Arnold and Richard Thomas, New Wolsey Theatre until October 15
- Credit: Archant
Based on the highly successful British film, which charted the struggle women workers had for equal pay, this colourful musical tackles some thought-provoking subjects with a mixture of passion, insight and a justifiable sense of indignation.
This is no tub-thumping political history presentation, there are far too many jokes for that, but strip away the set dressing and then this seemingly, frothy lightweight show shows itself to be about something pretty important.
It’s about a moment in time when the world changed for the better. But, that change came at a price. Sacrifices had to be made and this is a show which entertainingly brings those sacrifices to light.
It’s show powered along with a variety of lively, feisty well drawn characters, all different from one another, the setting in Essex in 1968 is well realised through costume and casting, the music also does a lot to conjure up the feel of the era but the show really shines in those quieter moments when striking figurehead Rita O’Grady, brilliantly portrayed by Daniella Bowen has serious discussions with union convenor Connie Riley (Wendy Morgan) and her good-hearted but rather lost husband Eddie (Alex Tomkins).
There are some powerful, visually and musically stunning numbers which make you sit up and take notice but it is the quieter, more reflective songs that really hit home and make a real emotional connection. Connie’s Song, when Rita is first convinced that she has the ability, vision and drive to represent her fellow workers, and The Letter, which details the collapse of her family life, were both incredibly moving as is We Nearly Had It All.
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The striking machinists lie at the heart of this show and we get to be on first name terms with them early on as they sing about the appalling conditions they have to work in This Is What We Want.
The show really comes alive when we get involved in the women and the effect of their strike action on their lives. Bizarrely, it gets increasingly sidetracked by the outside world in the second half of the show. The presence of Harold Wilson as a reoccuring comedy figure is an unnecessary distraction as is the long ‘arrival of the Americans’ number. The time and energy would have been better spent dealing with the relationship of the girls with their families as the strike takes hold.
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Director Douglas Rintoul does a great job in anchoring this wonderful story in the real world and has cast some amazing actor-musicians. He skilfully balances the demands of dramatic storytelling with the needs of an upbeat musical. The falling back in time sequence at the beginning is a masterstroke. The performances are 100%. You want to stand up and support these amazing women – as most of the audience did on opening night – but sadly the book itself only delivers 87%.
Nevertheless, Made in Dagenham is a fast, lively, thoughtful show which will put a bounce in your step as you leave the theatre but with a more focussed script it could have been even better – an all-time classic.