This musical, first seen in the West End two years, ago has made a triumphant homecoming with a feisty new production that really is made in Dagenham (or at least just up the road, in Hornchurch).

Even without the star attraction of Gemma Arterton, Douglas Rintoul’s production is a big brassy vehicle, with 21 actors mucking in, playing musical instruments and a multitude of roles.

Richard Bean’s book remains characteristically bawdy; his seaside postcard humour dressed up in period mini-skirts and boiler suits.

Meanwhile jaunty, Sixties-style music and lyrics by David Arnold and Richard Thomas keep up the feel-good nostalgia for Dagenham before it turned into an industrial graveyard.

There is a satisfying parade of lewd, useless and boorish men, opposed by doughty, adorable and downtrodden women.

The true story of the Ford Motors machinists who went on strike for equal pay is lead by Daniella Bowen as fictional working mum Rita O’Grady. Giving her kids’ faces a spit and polish, stitching leatherette seats for Ford’s famous motors and leading her sisters out on strike, Rita is a paragon of modern womanhood.

To keep it from getting too worthy, Angela Bain’s pint-sized Beryl pitches in with withering four-letter quips; while Sophie-May Feek gives us the almost-tempted-to-break-ranks Sandra, who agonises over a plum job further up the feeding chain.

The men embrace their supporting roles as socialist dinosaurs with plucky good humour. Alex Tomkins is a fantasy Dad as Rita’s husband who first deserts and then meekly submits to his missus.

Graham Kent turns Harold Wilson into a Gilbert & Sullivan-style PM, exemplifying the hypocritical sexism with which the Sixties are now routinely damned.

But the most amusing male chauvinist pig is Jeffrey Harmer, as the Yankee owner of Ford Motors who is like Donald Trump without the political delicacy or gender sensitivities.

It’s all a cheerful hymn to a bygone era, characters rolling off the production line like so many souped-up Cortinas.

But what drives the engine is not just the spirit of the music but also an ensemble that replaces star turns with good old-fashioned collective action. No wonder Essex audiences are loving it.


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