Made in Dagenham

Date 17th May 2017
Society BANOS Musical Theatre
Venue Adrian Mann Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Chris Malone
Musical Director Dawn Tolley
Choreographer Emma Rowland

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This lively musical is based upon the real life strike at Ford Dagenham in 1968 and its raw, sometimes coarse language perfectly illustrated the down to earth attitudes and honesty of those who worked in the Ford plant.  

The stage was reasonably sized with a narrow apron both left and right, but had virtually no wing space at all as I know from personal experience. The use that director Chris Malone made of the stage was wondrous to behold. A metal construction with high platforms left and right was cleverly used throughout for management meetings mostly and scenes were swiftly and smoothly changed.

A simple, but effective opening set of the central character Rita's home featured her husband Eddie in bed (with the bed and Eddie actually vertical  upon the stage left platform), while beneath on stage were Rita and their two kids eating breakfast and squabbling realistically at the kitchen table. Her ironing board was slightly stage right of the kitchen area. One felt really drawn into the stage, partly because of the wide but narrow layout of the auditorium. We had the women's sewing shop, men's car factory, a social club, a school, a Bernie Inn and even two Labour politicians' offices.

I am, regretfully, easily old enough to remember Barbara  Castle, Employment Minister and her paper "In Place of Strife" together with the charismatic Prime Minister Harold Wilson, pipe and Gannex raincoat adorning him.   Both their offices were simply furnished with an accurate old style telephone which many young people would now consider antique!

Helen Clark as Rita O'Grady was, frankly, superb in this role, the feisty, fair minded but vulnerable, self doubting leader of the women sewing machinists, who led the strike for equal pay with the men (something which the men eventually come round to supporting). She trod the delicate balance of loyalty to her fellow machinists and to her suffering husband with consummate artistry.   This was raw and powerful theatre and consummate acting from the top drawer! 

Steve Clemo as her faithful but torn husband Eddie O'Grady was a magnificent foil in every way and their loving, but difficult family relationship underpinned the whole story. Their young children on the night I attended were charmingly and realistically played by Samuel Millard-Burda as Graham and Lily Worby as Sharon (the roles were shared on other performances with Zack Harding and Oenone Turner-Hearn.)

A host of fellow female factory workers gave sterling support to Rita early on in the insistent "This is what We Want", featuring Georgia Loosley as Sandra Beaumont;  Denize Goulder-Perks as Beryl;  Monica Turnbull as Cass;  Teri-Ann Carter as Clare. Clare was given individual authenticity par excellence in "Wossname" together with all the women.  Judy Southey was an excellent Connie Riley, a tough as teak Shop Steward.  No wonder the ladies won the day with such as these in the vanguard.  Others ladies also not to tangle with were the Cortina Girls, namely: Debbie Clemo, Roz Copeland, Alma Griffith, Sue Massingham and Helen Strong.   

On the platform, heatedly discussing factory business, were Mr Hopkins, Managing Director, played in forceful style by Ken Smith;  Sid, a truculent Union Shop Steward well played by Tom Jobson and  Monty, a NUVB Convenor played with style by Roger Gibbs.

There was an effective scene in Wilson's office, Graeme Long  doing very well as the Prime Minister from Huddersfield, Harold Wilson. I especially enjoyed the businesslike, but distinctly warm and practised portrayal of the redoubtable Barbara Castle by Valerie Carr - her scene with Rita being very powerful and actually moving. A well loved, yet feisty Cabinet Minister, splendidly captured by Valerie, indeed a show high spot. Someone had done their homework on this character!  The tango by the two aides was humorous and went over well.

Beginning at the boss's dining table, Fiona Radford as the posh, but warm hearted and honourable boss's wife, Lisa Hopkins, showed the class both of the character and the actor. Truly a woman with real compassion for those less fortunate than herself.

Francis Richard Radford was the awful, sleazy  Ford "big white chief" himself, Mr Tooley, initially in the USA, then appearing in Dagenham.   A true baddie with no redeeming personal qualities, Francis played this unlovely character, as his programme CV heavily suggests, with more than a hint of the most divisive current American politician, albeit a deal younger. Answers as to whom in a tweet please!   Francis elevates every show he appears in and this was no exception.   Charismatic, splendid, different class!! Believe me, this was acting firmly against type, par excellence!

The abiding strength and message this show sends out is of the innate decency and determination under difficult circumstances of pretty much all the female characters, be they refined in language or not.   In contrast, some (only) of the men were real no hopers, though most eventually either chose to or were forced to accept the important staging post in the inevitable advancement of women's employment basic rights.   The sensitive director Chris Malone clearly devised this show with this at the forefront and it was  raw and powerful theatre in consequence. A true landmark in the long battle for female equal rights.

The Ford Social Club was well represented, a sexist comic Chubby Chuff given a coarse vitality by Sebastian Roughley  and introduced by the typical MC type of that era in fine style by Colin Bousfield.  Colin also did well as Personnel Director Gregory Humble, caught in the crossfire of the dispute and played Mr Buckton a strict schoolteacher (kids were still caned in the late sixties).   Sebastian also played Cortina Man convincingly and Mr Tooley's rough security man Adams. Roy Comber was Ron Macer, the forceful production manager.

Other realistic roles were well portrayed by Michael Wallbridge as Bill (another Union Shop Steward) and Charlie Lambourne as an Apprentice Toolmaker. Michael and Sebastian were also two civil servants used to good effect in the Parliament offices scene.   One really felt as if we were actually in the factory, so realistic were these men and also all of the many chirpy and indefatigable  sewing machine girls, without exception.

Musical Director Dawn Tolley used her five piece band to good effect, though the band were too loud in the factory workers' in "Made in Dagenham" and I lost some singing lines.

I liked the Eastbourne scene a lot; it was lively and well worked. The tense build up to Rita's speech at the TUC and her final triumph was excellent and most realistic.  The company gave marvellous support.

Choreographer Emma Rowland set some excellent routines which were slick and a high standard for an amateur show. BANOS would be well advised to hang on to this talented young lady.

Amy Worrall on lighting did a fine job with some good effects. Sound was also well handled by Colin Hannah and Louise Carter.  Costumes which were well fitted and in the main just right for the period were a team effort by Sue Aldridge, Helen Strong, Giuseppina Tobin and Luisa Puig.  Kirsten Massingham and Aimee Harris dealt with make up effectively and Luisa Puig had the all important but oft overlooked responsibility for props. A well earned mention therefore for Luisa.    Roy Comber must also get huge credit for the set design and build. The way the set was used so imaginatively by the inspirational director Chris Malone was outstanding as was his whole direction of this gritty, real and thundering good show.

Finally, a special mention for the way above average programme with interesting and informative background and a welcome piece on NODA.   Well done everybody.