MADE IN DAGENHAM
Leigh Operatic and Dramatic Society at the Palace Theatre Westcliff
The Essex première for Made in Dagenham, the Musical. And haven't LODS done the county proud! High production values, from the design to the orchestra to the professional-looking programme.
It's the uplifting tale of the archetypal Essex girls who take on the might of Ford America and the MCPs of the TUC to win their battle for equal pay. Following in the footsteps of Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, it's an unsubtle, manipulative show, redeemed by Richard Bean's engaging book and Richard Thomas's witty lyrics. And here, by an energetic, polished production on the Palace stage.
Helen Sharpe gets some wonderful performances from a strong cast, especially of course the women of the sewing machine room at Ford's.
Laura Hurrell is a wonderful Rita O'Grady, the strong, if initially reluctant, spokeswoman for the group. We see her domestic life almost wrecked by the strike; Hurrell manages to convince both as an ordinary working-class woman and a heroine of the industrial relations struggle for equality. Not to mention selling some of the best numbers in David Arnold's patchy score. Amongst the other broad-brush characters are Kathy Ward's inarticulate Clare [her “Wossname” number is a delight] and Emma Elliot's dolly bird Sandra. Sarah Gallucci brings pathos as well as personality to union convenor Connie, and Jo Whitnell is excellent value as big Beryl, potty-mouthed and incorrigibly outspoken.
Anthony Bristoe is a sympathetically conflicted husband, a New Man in the making, perhaps.
The men have to do a good deal of doubling in this show, so Monty, the Union Man, is convincingly done by Simon Sharpe, who's also the gross club comic Chubby Chuff. Barry Jones has three roles, including a slightly camp Harold Wilson, superb in his number with the trio of Civil Servants. Hard-hearted, hard-nosed US boss Tooley is powerfully played by Lewis Sheldrake, who's also the boy Barry, target of some fruity banter from the women. And Peter Brown works hard in multiple roles, including Latin teacher Mr Buckton, part of a plot device which brings together Rita and Zoe Berry's Lisa, middle-class feminist wife of Ford UK boss Hopkins [Neil Lands]. It involves a protest against corporal punishment in school. Unthinkable now, of course. If only equality had been so thoroughly won.
1968, year of revolution, is compellingly recalled. In the musical idiom of some of the better numbers - “This Is What We Want” for example - and in the settings – the Social Club and the Berni Inn.
Paul Ward's set is minimal – impressive sewing machines, less impressive Cortina – I liked the way the O'Grady's home was set before the overture: kitchen sink, ironing board, lunchbox, Weetabix. Outstanding digital graphics by Andrew Seal – the orange domestic décor, the Dagenham plant – make the many changes of scene simple and dynamic.
Stunning staging of some of the big numbers - choreography by Michelle Taylor – the title song, and the rousing anthems that end each act: Everybody Out and Stand Up.
Rachael Plunkett is the Musical Director, and she's part of the great pit band under the baton of Stuart Woolner.