Review Made In Dagenham
Posted by News Editor
Posted in News
Review Made in Dagenham, WMOS at The Theatre Royal, Winchester
Brash and beautifully built – and I’m not referring to the Ford Cortina 1600E, a car I coveted as a young man and which makes a virtual appearance in this amazing musical.
No, I reserve those words for the musical ‘Made in Dagenham’, the latest in a very long and successful line of shows to come off the Winchester Musicals and Operatic Society’s production line.
Inspired by true events in 1968 and the 2010 film of the same name, ‘Made in Dagenham’ follows the inspiring tale of a brave and feisty group of lady machinists at the Dagenham Ford plant who went on strike, initially for recognition of their being skilled workers but ultimately for equal pay with their male counterparts.
Times were very different 50 years ago – despite the fact that women were granted the right to vote 50 years prior to that in 1918 (albeit only over the age of 30) and the second world war necessitating women to do the jobs traditionally reserved for men, attitudes in the 1960s still meant that women earned a good deal less than men, had fewer rights and were generally treated as second class citizens in the workplace.
Indeed, before 1975 a woman could be sacked for being pregnant and prior to 1982 it was legal for women to be refused service in a pub.
Against a backdrop that we now find difficult to get our heads round (cautionary note: in 2019 there is still some way to go for complete equality in this country), our unlikely heroine Rita, played to absolute perfection by Olivia Conroy, runs the gauntlet of prejudice and hate for becoming the figurehead behind the industrial action that helped shape sex equality in industry.
Initially that vitriol came from Ford’s middle management but extended to most of the male workers laid off as a result of the women’s strike. Rita risks losing her marriage and her friends, is despised by the American owners for being a ‘dolly bird troublemaker’, but eventually finds her own voice (and what a voice) by addressing the TUC conference with a speech that would eventually lead to the creation of the Equal Pay Act 1970.
To set such a powerful, dramatic but heartwarmingly amusing story to music is not unique – look at ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘West Side Story’ for examples of excellent musicals with equally dark, topical backdrops.
But ‘Made in Dagenham’ is very much its own show and WMOS have bravely tackled a real challenge in bringing it to the stage. On the lighter side there are lovable,course, down to earth characters like dippy Clare (a great performance by Millie Clucas) straight-talking Beryl (Gina Thorley) and memorable lines like “Rome wasn’t built in a day – but Dagenham certainly was” or “behind every powerful woman is a man waiting for surgery”. Interestingly the shop floor workers are portrayed with a great deal of reality, as if portraying them as larger than life would be insulting.
Contrastingly the ‘influential’ characters of the story such as Harold Wilson (Alan Morgan), Barbara Castle (Katie Hickson), Ford boss Tooley (powerful performance by Peter Barber), and managing director of the plant Mr Hopkins (Martin Humphrey) are written as caricatures, to be poked fun at and ridiculed.
The language, as it was at the time and the place, is fairly ripe but never gratuitous and always in context; a little parental caution is probably not amiss if you are planning on bringing youngsters to see it.
The songs, written by David Arnold with lyrics by Richard Thomas are in the most part big, powerful numbers that require big, powerful voices to carry them. Luckily WMOS has an ensemble of principals and supporting actors, singers and dancers who have no problem in doing just that. There are some ballads too, some poignant, but for the most part the music – accompanied by an unseen and faultless orchestra led by Martin Paterson – is loud and suitably upbeat.
There is comedy, there is pathos, anger and plenty of light and shade in this show. The audience loved it at tonight’s performance and quite rightly there was a huge WMOS fan club whooping and cheering from start to finish.
Fittingly, the finale ‘Stand Up’ left the audience with no option but to do just that: cheering, clapping and enjoying every minute of it.
This is very much an ensemble piece with a large and talented cast but there are standout performances for sure: apart from Olivia Conroy’s amazing performance, which requires a myriad of emotions, highs and lows – laughter, tears and everything in between – Rob Preston’s debut with WMOS as Rita’s husband Eddie is outstanding, made even more impressive when you read that this is his first stage appearance anywhere.
Rita’s on stage children are not just cameo roles and both are played well by Cici Liversedge and Alfie Stokes-Graham. Lorraine Morgan turns in a fine performance as Connie, matched well by Steve Gleed as Monty. The list goes on – there is no weak link, the whole cast has been well prepared and the confidence they show is evident.
My companion tonight commented “they must have had a blast rehearsing that”. And she’s not wrong – the cast and crew work together like a well-oiled machine and although it must have been very hard work putting it together, they obviously had loads of fun doing it.
The enthusiasm and energy shines through. Lighting, set, costumes and choreography all gel really well, despite one or two very minor technical hitches with crackling mics and a couple of dark spots on stage.
‘Made in Dagenham’ is worthy of a big budget and a big stage. I have seen professional shows that are put well inthe shadows by the calibre of this production. It never ceases to amaze me the seemingly unlimited source of talented and creative performers and crew that come together in Winchester and the surrounding area to put on such high quality entertainment for our enjoyment.
Bravo, the real ladies from Dagenham all those years ago and bravo to WMOS for bringing the story to life.