“Rome wasn’t built in a day…but Dagenham definitely was!” quote three of the O’Grady’s in DAODS latest production, Made in Dagenham. From what I know of Dagenham (pronounced Dagen-um) this satirical line mostly rings true; as for DAODS production? This was unquestionably not built in a day.
For my overseas followers reading this review, those who may have fell asleep in their high school history lesson or for those entirely new to the world of musical theatre, Made in Dagenham illustrates the remarkable and empowering story of the female workers strike of 1968 that brought Ford Dagenham’s car production to a halt. Almost 200 sewing machinists (who made the seats for the cars) were rallying under the cry for equal pay after being classified as unskilled workers; all of the women were paid 15% less than their male counterparts in the same job. Dagenham tells the story of Rita O’Grady (a fictionalised character made to symbolise the voice of the workers) who becomes the fighting figure of the Ford Dagenham Motors’ female workers, championing the urge for equality, which eventually led to the Equal Pay Act 1970.
It is refreshing to see an amateur operatic show that flaunts their female roles with such gusto and bravado that you almost want to stand up out of your seat when they sing and join them onstage. Such is the pull of Made in Dagenham.
The show itself is beautifully written and artfully played by DAODS’ full orchestra, who played with such clarity so as to compliment the fine performances onstage. Led by Musical Director Ed Sage, the two work as a well-oiled machine.
Director Alex Campbell ensures that every detail to this performance is a visual feast. From the large Ford sign that hovers above the stage as you enter, to the variety of period costumes worn by the women throughout, down to the characterization of each and every personality that she has in her arsenal; Campbell manages to bring out the most spectacular performances from her leading ladies and men.
As the titular “We Can Do It” protagonist Rita O’Grady, Stephanie Trott makes Rita the unlikely heroine of the show. Introduced at the very beginning (Busy Woman) we automatically root for her as she has to look after three children: her two little ones, Graham and Sharon O’Grady (played confidently by Joseph Mutti and Elouise Wickens) and her – almost as infantile – husband Eddie O’Grady (presented with emotional variety by Alex Freeman). Trott continuously surprises you along Rita’s story as we see her fight misogynistic Americans, societal expectations and faltering cases of loyalty in the ranks of the female workers strike. Trott is well deserved of this role and she did, not just herself proud, but the women of Ford Dagenham Motors proud by telling their stories. I believe Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda would empathize with this sentiment.
One particular component I rather enjoyed about Made in Dagenham and the show in general, is the countless opportunities for females in both supporting and ensemble roles. Amy Farlie as Lisa Hopkins, Julia Bull as Barbara Castle, Elisa Tebith as Connie, Abby James as Sandra all boast their talents and shine in their individual roles. Each character is clear in their motivation and where they fit in the story, even Bull, as Secretary for State of Employment Barbara Castle, finds her way around what could have been a villainous role.
Speaking of villainous roles, our very obvious villain of the story is (not ironically) the American, Mr Tooley, played by Alex Tyrrell who does well to bring out the villainry but I couldn’t help but have been left wanting more from his song “This is America”. Moreover, Tyrrell must have been booed at every performance as he was anticipating it at his bows. Not that this was aimed at his talent however, rather the character he portrays, the fact that he was booed was more or less a compliment. This sneering character consistenly hurls racist, sexist and bigotous insults every time he steps on stage. In the worlds climate, he could very much be have been portrayed as a very current and controversial President (I’ll give you a clue, his first name is the same as that of a famous cartoon duck and his last name rhymes with “Crump”) but sadly the context of the show would not have matched the portrayal.
While there are plenty of opportunities to shine in this female ensemble show, the men also have their tales to tell. John Woodley as Prime Minister Harold Wilson is a particular standout. Woodley is clearly not unknown to comedic roles as he satirizes Harold Wilson to perfection. My funny bone didn’t stop tickling the entire time he was onstage. At the interval, my friends were still chuckling at the “stationary cupboard” gag, such is our love of theatrical puns.
As with most amateur productions, Dagenham is not without its faults. Thankfully however, these were more nitpicky imperfections rather than major blemishes on the production as a whole. For instance, the mics at times were too late or too early coming on and so some major jokes were lost along the way. As well as this, diction was sometimes an issue, especially with such thick East End, Dagenham accents. Then again, I found it hard to understand most of the dialects in Britain…there is just such variety!
Apart from a disconnecting desk and an ensemble member who was either having the time of his life or had a few too many bevvies at the pub between shows, Made in Dagenham could have been sold as a West End production.
It’s safe to say that Dagenham can sit proudly on DAODS list of past 100 shows and the cast and crew can celebrate comfortably in the knowledge that they pulled off a stellar production. Having not known anything about the show going into it, I now firmly believe that Made in Dagenham is a story that should be told time and again, not just in England but all over the world, at least until that pay gap is eradicated in all sectors of society.
Stin’s Final Thoughts: Made in Dagenham…I wonder how much it impacts on Ford’s financial year?
Made in Dagenham was playing at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford. DAODS next production Dream plays 5th – 8th July 2017. Click the link below for their website and information.