Inspired by a true story and based on the movie of the same name, this new British musical is full of friendship, equality and the importance of fighting for what is right. It certainly places Dagenham on the map!
Opening at the Adelphi Theatre in 2014 to mixed reviews, Made in Dagenham follows the female factory workers who went out on strike at the Ford production plant in 1968. They had been downgraded to unskilled category B workers, which also meant that they were paid less than their male equivalents. It is a heart-warming story which portrays how a group of ordinary working-class women can do extraordinary things when they stand together. The show might have been even more successful if the composer had recycled the songs from that era, but it comes with a fresh and catchy musical score by David Arnold, with hilarious comedic additions from lyricist Richard Thomas.
Although it does not compare with the likes of Les Miserables, Phantom or even more modern feel-good musicals such as Sister Act and Hairspray, I was pleasantly surprised by Southampton Musical Society’s version. Performances by the females in the cast certainly over-shadow those from the males of the company. Gemma Arterton played the leading role of Rita O’Grady in the original London production, winning herself the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical Newcomer in 2015. Stepping effortlessly into Arterton’s shoes is leading lady Kimberly King, who gives an elegant performance full of charisma, command and emotive expression throughout. Katy Stone (Beryl) excels in providing superb comic timing and plenty of amusing one-liners – with a few expletives thrown in for good measure! Emma Harris (Claire) delivers a polished performance which is engaging, effective and entertaining.
As well as strong casting, a production of this standard requires an accomplished and dedicated technical team. Although the set was hired in, credit must be given to the stage crew led by stage manager Marc Scott for a number of slick scene changes. I never envy the wardrobe department, especially sourcing costumes from 50 years ago. Wardrobe mistresses Charlotte Barnes and Anna Hussey deserve a special mention for their hard work which certainly pays off, with a large display of typical ’60s fashion. Although hidden away backstage, the ten-piece orchestra musically directed by Christopher Bell also deserves a mention. The Berry Theatre has limitations in space and due to the orchestra being located backstage, there seemed to be sound clarity issues, which I hope will be rectified as the run continues. The excellent choreography and direction provided by Stefanie Radley shines through.
This combination of teamwork was greatly appreciated by the first-night audience for this production, which is funny, fun and full of Essex charm! There are performances on 31 March at 7.30 and 1 April at 2.30 and 7.30.