Made in Dagenham

Date 13th June 2018
Society Springers Amateur operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue The Civic Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Eric Smart
Musical Director Ian Myers
Choreographer Kieran Bedwell and Mel Pavelin

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Author: Katherine Hempstead

After watching the evening’s performance of the hilarious, inspirational and uplifting musical Made in Dagenham, I can scarcely fathom why this was only on-stage at the West-End for such a short period of time.

As the curtain drew back, the impressive multi-level set provided the interior of Rita O’Grady’s bustling and homely 1960’s home. Rita, played by Amy Serin, introduced us to her humdrum life in a reassuringly familiar East London accent, with a slight resignation of her domestic ‘bliss’, joined on stage by so many other 1960’s mothers telling the same tale. Amy played Rita with acute sensitivity, a mother fighting not only for her own rights of equal pay, but that of her 6 year old daughter, which her hard-working and baffled husband failed to recognise until it was nearly too late. Eddie, played by Ian Pavelin, was able to showcase his natural ability to portray the working class dad who is torn between his commitment to his children, his role as the breadwinner and his wife. His solo ‘The Letter’ was heart-breaking, his frustration evident and his emotions finally cracking the surface of his laddish exterior. The high ceilings and cleverly painted set of corrugated iron cladding held the factory floor of the under-appreciated female employees, dressed with vintage singer sewing machines in a row. Foul-mouthed Beryl, played by Deborah Anderson, was wonderfully vulgar, with her laddish posture and standing up to the lads with an equally sharp tongue.  Erm, what’s her name, that, thing-me-bob, Clare, played by Sara Mortimer was the inner (and ditzy) voice of every woman who is determined to voice her valid opinions without the vocabulary or ability, and was clearly loved and protected by her factory mates, who collectively had formed a family group of their own.  Cass played by Lexy Phillips had a real strength in her voice, providing support to her shop floor girls and leading the chant with gusto during Everybody out, which closed the first half.  Glamorous Sandra played by Bethan Anderson tottled onto the stage topped with a beehive and hopes above her current career, which nearly jeopardised her friendship and their overall cause when seduced by the call of a job of a Cortina promoter. The factory boys belted out the title song ‘Made in Dagenham’ with a rough working man edge, clad in blue overalls and set the attitude of all male employees, including those in the staff room making the decisions. 

After a rather tricky set change, overshadowed by an overbearing clock looming in the office, Anver Anderson delivered Harold Wilson with many of the laugh out loud moments, from his heel kicking shenanigans, inability to find his way out of offices and general parody of the continually struggling political office of the 1960’s; not much has changed. Supported by Barbara Castle played by Helen Quigley, who maintained a Thatcher-esque stature throughout, the two really played off each-other well. The three ‘stooges’ dressed in black suits and being the yes men for Wilson had great energy and timing, seemingly with springs in their shoes and harmonised wonderfully.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Another Good duo was Jason Norton and Olivia Pearson, playing Mr and Mrs. Hopkins. Their first scene was wonderfully tense, with her prickly delivery, and on the edge of her sanity in the ‘perfect’ life of domestic bliss. Although blessed with financial security, she still fought for equal rights for women’s pay, fed up with her husband’s sexist industry. Connie, played by Catherine Gregory appeared as world-weary from the ongoing battle for equality from the past 30 years, fighting for a revolution she sadly never got to see. Her song ‘Same old Story’ struck a chord with the constant fight we endure. 

The second half opened up with the ‘swank of the Yank’ Mr Tooley played by Gareth Locke strutting his stuff onto the stage, attempting to assert authority over the hard as nails but with a heart of gold Dagenham girls.  The audience were treated to an assault of the senses, with a bombardment of brash Americanism and inflated egos.  In contrast, the following hit ‘Storm Clouds’ came as a stand against the ‘Man’, both men and women now united in the fight for their livelihoods. Rousing and inspirational, it was delivered as a real power ballad. High emotions ran throughout the second half, now with a face of a common enemy to channel their frustration and anger into.

Set changes were a little slow and clunky in places, which could have been covered a little more by accompanying music and maybe even braving it and set changing in the light to ensure a smoother transition. However, each set was impressive once placed and provided over 10 locations to tell the story.  I also found some dialogue a little difficult to hear, both in song and conversation, but never enough to lose focus or any of the plot.  Choreography of movement during numbers was kept simple and therefore tightly delivered, and the costumes were perfect for the 1960’s working class.  The real musical strength of the cast shined through the ensemble numbers, though there were some really lovely solo’s too. The two youngsters Haydn Hemmings and Lily Beadel were natural performers, forming the typical nuclear family and a real rapport with their stage mum and dad.  There were so many well-rounded characters and quirkiness throughout this production, a real care had been taken, with strong direction by Eric Smart and Jackie Bates. Sets were well dressed and (can I say historically?!) accurate, with lots of detail and touches. The choreographers Kieran Bedwell and Mel Pavelin used the sets to their full advantage, including the audience in the rousing ‘Stand up’.  Ian Myers was the musical director, obviously well experienced and confident in his disciplined cast to guide them to achieve their potential.

 This was a memorable, inspiring evening, and I only wish more could see this production, as it carries such an important true story and rights we are still fighting for today.