Stars explained: * A production of no real merit
with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not
enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real
life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A
good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely
achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a
great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major
flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic
which lifts theatre to another plane.
Made in Dagenham
Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company
Made in Dagenham never quite made it anywhere else, sadly, closing after just six months in the West End because of disappointing ticket sales, which is a pity as it is much more solid fare than the often lazy, jukebox musicals doing the rounds.
Based on the 2010 film it chronicles the 1968 battle of Ford’s female machinists at the Dagenham plant who went on strike for equal pay with men, a dispute which was instrumental in creating the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
The women made the seat covers for Cortinas and Zephyrs and when the strike spread to Halewood in Liverpool, stock quickly ran out bringing production lines to a halt, and, as many of the women were married to Ford workers, it meant domestic as well as industrial strife.
Being invited to review the dress rehearsal has its dangers, not least deciding whether what you are watching is a rough diamond or, well . . . just rough, and amid the technical hiccoughs at Lichfield Garrick a little gem is emerging.
A problem for amateur companies hiring theatres is that there is little time between get in and first night for technical rehearsals – a Sunday and following evening usually - which means dress is still a time for working out where, and when, scenery goes, what lights to use and even which mic should be on.
And this is a big, impressive set with statues, scrims, cloths, and even a Ford Cortina – or at least half a 1600E – which didn’t help matters by becoming jammed backstage
And through it all the cast were immense, never missing a beat with no prompts, no hesitation and no let-up in enthusiasm despite what was happening around them.
Charlotte Middleton as Rita with her girls and a MkII Cortina
To be fair, the technical problems were minor, many merely deciding on the best option, and will have been sorted, or at least will go unnoticed by an audience on first night, who will never know a kitchen should be a couple of feet to the left for example, all of which should leave a solid four star show led by Charlotte Middleton as non-militant, non-political mum of two Rita O’Grady, as far from a union firebrand as you are likely to get. No one will ever call her Red Rita yet she becomes the unlikely leader of the striking women.
It is a well measured, convincing performance by Middleton who also has a lovely voice which positively shines in the sad despairing ballad Nearly had it all. She is matched by husband Eddie, played by Patrick Jervis, who has the stress of not only being laid off by his wife’s strike, but all his workmates laying into him for not being able to control his woman in this tale of supercharged sexism.
He has a lovely solo, beautifully sung, with the powerful anthem The Letter as Rita’s absence on union business, the strike, lay off, aggression from workmates all becomes too much for him; he leaves Rita, taking the children with him, telling her he needs her in his life but “I can’t do this on my own any more.”
The two songs are the musical highlights which is perhaps understandable as the pair are the most rounded characters and the musical is as much about them as the strike.
And amid the strikers we have the likes of Beryl, played, larger than life, by Clare Pugh. Every factory with a large women’s contingent has a Beryl, loud, brassy, language to shame a docker, with a mind never straying too far from the gutter, and let’s be honest, fun. A bit like yer average sexist bloke on the shop floor, but in a dress.
There’s Clare, played by Emma Hill, who is perhaps, maybe, what’s the word for it . . . decisive . . . sometimes, if that’s all right, then there is practical Cass, played by Jo McWillie, Paula Lumsden as the dying union rep Connie who pleads with Rita to carry on the fight and then Sally-Jane Adams as Sandra, who oozes sex and seduction from every shapely curve.
The men are perhaps a little too stereotyped with male chauvinism alive and thriving with even union leader Monty, played by Mark Skett, colluding with management to neutralise the women by invoking the grievance procedures to kick the dispute into the long grass.
Ford workers led by Eddie on the shop floor
The Ford staff relations man, played by Gregory Hubble, is an out and out sexist, and Hubble also returns as an over the top, Uncle Sam Ford exec from the USA, heading here to teach the little women a lesson.
Perhaps the anti-sexism message is a little too loud at times. Attitudes have moved on a long way since 1968 which made some of the characterisations drift into sledgehammer and nut territory although with a book by Richard Bean (One man, two guvnors) there are plenty of laughs.
Speaking of characterisations Vicky Beck did a good job as Barbara Castle encouraging the women in their fight, while James Pugh was an amusing Harold Wilson, complete with Gannex mac.
This was backed by a hard working ensemble who gave us everything from milling strikers to the glitzy launch of the new 1600E with Jonathan Blake as Mr Cortina with his dancing girls.
Brother and sister Lewis and Kirsten McLaren also do well as the O’Grady children Graham and Sharon.
One reviewer said of the 2014 West End show that the music was “functional” which perhaps describes it well. The songs are original, lively and relate to the show (the film, incidentally, just raided the jukebox filling the action with 60s’ hits and providing a saleable album) with a couple of songs being real stand out numbers but only within the confines of the show.
That being said the music is enjoyable and the band under musical director Sheila Pearson, is superb, with, incidentally, 10 musicians, one more than the West End show managed!
Maggie Jackson has done a fine job with the choreography which is always interesting and challenging for an amateur company and they pull it off a treat.
Suzanne Harris’s costume designs, along with hairstyles, look authentic and director Paul Lumsden was left making final tweaks on dress night to a show which was almost there.
With an audience, who make a real difference, and the technical now behind them, this has all the makings of a cracking show. To 01-04-17
*contains some bad language.
The strike started with a regrading exercise downgrading the women from B, skilled, to C unskilled workers both on lower pay then men doing similar jobs in Grade B and even men in Grade C.
The strike brought in the The Equal Pay Act of 1970, strengthened by EU legislation when we joined the Common Market in 1973, but it took another six week strike in 1984 before the women were regraded back to B and classed once more as skilled workers.