The West End theatre scene might have taken a knocking recently but as they say, it’s not over until… well, a new show opens, so let’s hope that Made in Dagenham will reverse the tide and stick around for more than just a while.
This new musical follows the highly successful feel-good film based on the true story of female Ford factory workers in Essex who strike for equal pay and against all odds they triumph. Did you get all that? Good, I’m glad you’re keeping up! Starring English rose Gemma Arterton as Rita O’Grady and husband Eddie played by Adrian Der Gregorian, the show has a dazzlingly funny script, wittily penned songs, a brilliantly devised set and some completely over the top characters. Together they conspire to make this production surprisingly good and very, very funny.
Calendar Girls and Billy Elliot have both morphed into successful and long running productions; Made in Dagenham definitely has potential to do the same. It’s cleverly cast and well designed, with a superb creative team behind it.
I have to admit, I wasn’t totally convinced it would work. Having seen the film, it was a struggle to imagine Made in Dagenham as a musical. It’s totally counter intuitive but we love a loser (well in the theatre we do). Think Grease, Annie, Cats, Hairspray, Priscilla, and Les Miserables and you’ll start to see the theme I’m talking about. I admit it, I was wrong, this is great fodder for a musical!
And back to Dagenham…where exactly is the glamour in a 1970’s factory? And what on earth is Harold Wilson doing in a musical? These problems are brilliantly solved with the addition of high camp, sequins and big show tunes with an unashamedly cockney accent. So now you’re starting to get a flavour what’s to come, without wishing to spoil any of the surprises, here are my highlights.
First is the giant Air Fix kit style set. This cleverly transforms from a two up two down prefab (musical fans will probably notice the upright bed is quite probably a homage Hairspray’s opening scene), into the factory floor, board rooms and even the office of the Prime Minister (with Big Ben in the background).
I think there must have been some serious examination of Mel Brooks’ work when it came to creating ‘the powers that be’ for Made in Dagenham. The pipe smoking plié-ing Harold Wilson is utterly outrageous, the bold and brassy Barbara Cartland is a revelation too, as well as laugh out loud funny while the big bad Ford Boss is a farcically camp corporate cowboy. The factory girls are great and although slightly stereotypical, they certainly do a lot more for the good name of Essex than TOWIE.
The songs are very memorable and although slightly formulaic at times (it seems like each song begins with a solo and then becomes a chorus of voices – or is that just all musicals?) they pack a punch and keep the audience fully engaged. You can listen and download a few of them here [warning: Everybody Out is definitely an earworm].
And to summarise, there’s lots to love about Made in Dagenham; from the set to the songs, to the witty repartee and characterisation. There are no slow moments and it certainly doesn’t come across as too worthy, it’s good old fashioned entertainment and you’ll leave on a high.
The plot (taken from the official web site):
Like millions of other working women, each morning Rita O’Grady is just trying to get her husband out of bed, get the kids off to school and get to work at the factory on time. But life is about to change forever when it’s announced that the girls in the stitching room of Ford’s Dagenham car plant will have their pay grade dropped to ‘unskilled’. Quickly drawing on strength she never knew she had, Rita leads her friends in a battle against the might of Ford and the corruption of the Union supposed to protect them. As the girls’ inspiring journey gets bigger than anyone could have imagined, the pressure is too much for some, but can Rita keep up the fight and the happy home she’s worked so hard for?
Cast & Creative:
Starring Gemma Arterton as Rita (The Duchess of Malfi at the Globe Theatre, Quantum of Solace and Tamara Drewe) and Adrian der Gregorian as husband Eddie O’Grady (Mr Burns at The Almeida, La Cage Aux Folles Playhouse Theatre), the full cast list is here
Director: Rupert Goold (Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre, American Psycho, Oliver!, Enron)
Writer: Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors, The Heretic, England People Very Nice),
Music: David Arnold (James Bond series, Hot Fuzz, and Sherlock)
Lyrics: Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer The Opera, The Royal Opera’s Anna Nicole and Shoes at Sadler’s Wells).
Set and costume: Bunny Christie’s (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (NT & West End, Emil & the Detectives)
Strand, London, WC2R 0NS
Online booking here
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3pm
£69.50, £55.00, £45.00, £35.00, £15.00
A limited number of £25 Day Seats will be available at each performance for personal callers at the Box Office from 10am on the day of the performance. (Max 2 per person)
UNDERGROUND: Covent Garden (Piccadilly line), Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo lines), Embankment (District and Circle lines).
NATIONAL RAIL: Charing Cross (or Waterloo and walk over the bridge)
BUS: 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 77A, 176