Made in Dagenham

Date 3rd October 2019
Society Alcester Musical Theatre Company
Venue The Palace Theatre, Redditch
Type of Production Musical
Director Bev Hatton
Assistant Director Mandy Alexander
Musical Director Phil Radden
Choreographer Naomi Beckford

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Author: Andy Brown

After performing one of the most well-known musicals of all times last year Alcester Musical Theatre Company on this occasion performed a musical which has proven to be very popular with amateur musical theatre groups over the last couple of year.

The show is centred on the 1968 protest at the Ford Dagenham plant by 187 women sewing machinists against their pay levels and desire to achieve equal pay with other workers within the company and their male counterparts. The industrial action which resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act the central theme of the show remains as strong today as the decade in which it is set.

Alcester Musical Theatre Company faced the challenges of this musical head on and most certainly portrayed the strong messages within it as well as moments of humour and family tensions.

The show tells of Rita and how she balances work life with colleagues and managers as well as her home life and the tension with husband Eddie which becomes more strained as Rita becomes more involved in politics and Trade Union business. The part of Rita demands strong vocals and from the opening Jo Hargraves did not disappoint in her delivery of musical numbers throughout the performance. Andrew Sutton gave a good performance as Eddie especially in his song, ‘The Letter’.  When the girls vote to go on strike the eventual impact this has on 5000 men that are laid off, is felt no more so than by Rita and Eddie  and their two youngsters ‘Graham’ and ‘Sharon’ and when Eddie decides to leave Rita temporarily you could feel the pain that this couple were going through due to the performances of these two actors. The highlight of the show had to be ‘Stand Up’ when Rita makes a speech at the TUC conference and this had most of the audience standing up in support of the rights for equal pay.

The machine girls, led initially by ‘Beryl’ who was played with great flavour in language and presence by Rachel Philpott leaving us in no doubt what it was like working in the shop floor conditions of the 1960s, began with a strong rendition of ‘Busy Women’.

The show is packed with great musical numbers and impressive performances were also provided by Charlotte McKay as ‘Clare’ and Debbie Salkeld as ‘Connie’ who gave a strong performance of Same Old Story. The factory’s ‘Dolly Bird’ was convincingly played by Mille Coles who has to battle with her conscience when asked to do promotion work to boost her meagre pay packet or stick with her colleagues and continue to strike.

Jeff and Lynda Gill worked well together as Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle to bring out the humour in these roles especially in the ‘I do like to be beside the Seaside’ line.

 ‘The Management’ led by ‘Mr Hopkins’ (Hugh Duck), Sid (Dave Hill),Bill (Karl Willis) and Monty (Daniel Blizzard) depicted well how you imagine the whole controversy was handled at the time and really emphasised the way women were treated back in the 1960’s. The language of the time when talking about their female employees and the way that the women even sat at a separate table at the Bernie Inn was handled very convincingly and you could see Monty struggling to stand up for his women workers whilst at the same time trying to still be ‘one of the lads!’

The female chorus was large and although it is of course good to encourage the whole membership to take part in production the stage is not overly large and at times the factory scenes were rather cramped. The male chorus was strong especially in, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and as the PM’s aides in, ‘Always a Problem.’

The show demands a significant number of scenes. These were tackled by good use of projection and minimal items on stage itself, although at times the fact that this was set in a Ford factory didn’t come across as much as I would have liked. The costumes were good and authentic to the time but the factory overalls were maybe a bit too clean for workers on a production line!

Under the leadership of Phil Radden the band was well balanced and enabled the cast to be heard.

Once again congratulations need to be given to director Bev Hatton and her assistant Mandy Alexander as well as choreographer Naomi Beckford and all involved.

It was, as always, a pleasure to be with Alcester and I look forward to their production in 2020 – another popular musical in the amateur world now – Singin in the Rain.