Under the circumstances perhaps the most thought-provoking character in the musical Made in Dagenham is wife of Ford Dagenham’s boss, Lisa Hopkins; through her own reservations about her plush lifestyle, the career-aspiring housewife convinces the female factory worker’s spokesperson, Rita O’Grady, that the campaign is one of sexual equality rather than a class struggle. When while the real Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 did indeed trigger the passing of the Equal Pay act, the issue is quite clearly rooted in worker’s liberty too.
So, I bite the bullet and go against my principals, arriving at the prestigious independent school, Dauntsey’s, to watch The Devizes Musical Theatre’s production of Made in Dagenham on their opening night, yesterday. A private school who brazenly parades its charity status, aids a local primary school, does a few sports coaching sessions at others and then sails around the world on its private yacht. Yet the irony of a play with the theme of working-class struggle staged in this tax-avoiding loophole abiding school, which Theresa May pledged against in her 2017 Conservative manifesto, but soon after quietly dropped, seemed to soar clear over the heads of the audience.
And hey, who’d flunked it, the theatre there is rather luxurious in comparison to a comprehensive school hall. It served its purpose for this, rather splendidly arranged musical, which though received critical response, ending its run at the West End promptly, I enjoyed. Intrigue drew me to the performance, how one can produce a musical from this principled, true story based social-message film of the same name. That and the fact my upbringing lies in Essex, with roots from the East End, to the point of jaded memories of an aunt chasing me with a spoon of wobbling jellied eels.
Yet it seems any movie is game for a musical adaption these days and for all that’s worth Made in Dagenham stages some apt, witty and intelligently written songs for the pivotal cast. The musical introduced some characters not in the film, of which the audacious bigot, cowboy Ford director was the most excruciatingly farcical, waving an electric guitar around like Peter Capaldi’s Dr Who car crash moment.
Though the script’s characters and content felt patchy at times, I loved the comical depiction of Harold Wilson, played brilliantly by Matthew Dauncey. It was almost pantomime-esque against the stern portrayal of Barbara Castle, acted equally radiantly by Laura Deacon. Yet the fourth wall remained bricked at all times. The moral as serious as the trade union’s dissolvement.
Giving credit for its humorous components, my favourite by far was Rachel Ibbetson’s representation of factory worker clown, Claire; I guess it had to devote somewhat to the Essex girl stereotype. But mostly it remains ethically witty, rather than lambast a weak county pigeonhole. Though I felt the acting ability was varied, the aforementioned, plus lead roles of Lucy Burgess, Chrissie Higgs as Connie and Jon Paget were all fantastic in their acting and singing solos. A further credit must go to the children, Ivan Barter and Emily Noad, for their thoroughly convincing despair when the chips were down.
I did enter with intensions to jokily knock attempts at the Essex accent, and indeed many actors did purvey more West London pronunciation, yet trivial elements aside, I came out satisfied at a job well done. Particularly poignant was the orchestra, who played marvellously, if not overpowering on-stage dialogue at times. To nit-pick further, the production could have been tighter. The lighting felt limited, microphone moments of lapse, and severe feedback at times, we must overlook; this was presented as amateur dramatics at its best, and the motivation and love of the arts clearly shone through, to demonstrate a dedicated and worthy production. Yeah, box ticked my love, I’m off shopping in Chigwell, rightly portrayed as the San Francisco of Essex!
Made in Dagenham only runs at until Saturday, so I’d advise you drop into Devizes Books and hope they’ve still got tickets. Shows start at 7:30 with a 2:30pm Saturday matinee.
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