Made in Dagenham The Musical – book by Richard Bean, music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas – New Wolsey Theatre till 15th October.
Made in Dagenham came out as a film in 2010 to tell the story of the strike by women working at the Ford plant which led to the historic equal pay act of 1970. The film starred Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins and won a number of awards, but was a serious look at the background and the political struggle of the times. Could it be successfully transferred to the stage as a musical?
Well the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. Mind you with a quality writing team of Richard Bean who wrote the hit comedy ‘One Man Two Governors’, David Arnold who took over from John Barry to score the James Bond films and Richard Thomas responsible for mega west end hit ‘Jerry Springer The Musical’, it would be hard to go wrong.
The cast is huge – 21 adults play multiple parts and instruments – so director Douglas Rintoul sensibly puts the action on a minimal set – with tables, workbenches and factory equipment brought on and off as needed. The musicians play in the wings when not performing as characters – and the quick changes between characters and instruments is slick.
The story follows the struggle of the girl machinists in the Ford factory to get skilled grading and ultimately equal pay in a world where women were still seen as second class citizens earning pin money. Although based on fact – the lead character of Rita O’Grady who leads the fight is fictional – but is played with confidence by Daniella Bowen. Working well with Alex Tomkins as husband Eddy they form a believable and touching partnership up against the authorities – the Unions, the Management and the Government – in the struggle to have their voices heard.
Sensibly the writers have not tried to recreate the film scene for scene but major more on the comedy and the character’s back stories and relationships – and so there are some excellent supporting roles from the factory girls, especially Angela Bain as foul mouth Beryl and Sarah Scowen as Clare. Claire Machin is very good as Barbara Castle ( if a little on the Mrs Slocombe side) and Graham Kent plays a send up version of Harold Wilson – but none the worse for that.
The sixties vibe is brought to life with the language and the costumes and all the songs are catchy, tuneful and brilliant – funny, intelligently written and with something to say that moves the story along.
There are some wonderful set pieces – including the Cortina song that launches a new model, a wonderful skit from Ford’s American owner comparing the qualities of the two countries, and the rousing song at the TUC conference that asks everyone to put their hand up in solidarity.
The first half is pacy – laugh out loud funny and incredibly entertaining as we meet the characters and get to know them as people.
The second half as we enter the fight gets a bit more serious – and could have done with a little editing as the women take their fight to the House of Commons and the TUC conference in Eastbourne – and personal tragedy makes way for triumph.
However, although a little long this musical is a delight – entertaining, very funny, well acted and directed and a pleasure to watch. Be warned – the language is a bit strong at times – but in keeping with the times and the situation. It finishes on 15th October so catch it while you can. Thoroughly recommended.