REVIEW: Made In Dagenham, The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
MADE In Dagenham, re-made in York, is the third production by the Jospeh Rowntree Theatre Company, formed to raise funds for the Haxby Road community theatre.
A good cause, in other words, and the more companies that use this ever-welcoming theatre, the better. The more companies that rise up to tread its boards, the better, too, because York is suffused with musical theatre talent and also with audiences always keen to support such productions.
This week represents the chance to see the York premiere of Made In Dagenham, transferred from screen to stage by composer David Arnold, lyricist Richard Thomas and Richard Bean, the Hull playwright whose comedy dramas revel in confrontations, spats and politics on stage (witness One Man, Two Guvnors and Toast, for example).
Bean re-tells the true 1968 story of the women in the stitching room of Ford’s Dagenham car plant being stitched up by both management and corrupt union, bluntly told their pay is to be dropped to an “unskilled” grade. What follows is a fight for equal pay, standing up against an American corporation, and if the battle is less well known than the Suffragette movement of the 1900s, it is a women’s rights landmark nonetheless.
From the off, once an ensemble number loosens limb and voice alike for Kayleigh Oliver’s cast, the banter amid the graft of the sewing machinists is boisterously established, the humour full of double entendres and sexual bravado, as characters are drawn pleasingly quickly. So too are their interactions with the men at the car plant, and in the case of Rita O’Grady (Jennie Wogan), working wife and mother of two, her home life with husband Eddie (Nick Sephton).
Rita, together with Rosy Rowley’s Connie Riley, become the protagonists of the struggle, but at a cost: for one, her relationship, for the other, her health. Wogan and Rowley are both tremendous in the drama’s grittier scenes and knock the hell out of their big numbers.
Bean writes with more sentimentality than usual, charting the fracturing of Rita and Eddie’s relationship, but it suits the heightened tone of a musical. Sephton handles his ballad lament particularly well.
Jennifer Jones’s Sandra, Izzy Betts’ Clare and, in particular, Helen Singhateh’s lewd Beryl add to the car plant fun and games, as does Chris Gibson’s ghastly American management guy, Tooley. All your worst Stetson-hatted American nightmares in one, and post-Brexit, there’ll soon be more where he came from!
You will enjoy Martyn Hunter’s pipe-smoking caricature of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and director Kayleigh Oliver’s no-nonsense Barbara Castle too. Richard Goodall is good all round as the machinists’ hard-pressed union rep.
Supporting roles and ensemble serve the show well too, and if sometimes the sound balance means lines are hard to hear when the Timothy Selman’s orchestra is playing beneath them, it is a minor problem. Selman’s players, Jessica Douglas and Sam Johnson among them, are on good form throughout.
Lorna Newby’s choreography could be given a little more oomph but with so many on stage at times, space is tight. One routine, where the women move in circles one way, and the men do likewise the other way, outside them, works wonderfully, however.
Made In Dagenham may be a car plant story, but its factory politics resonate loudly nanew in York, the industrial city of chocolate and trains.
Please note, Made In Dagenham features some very strong language and may be unsuitable for children.