One of the biggest theatrical mysteries of recent times concerns the distinctly sniffy West End reception afforded in 2014 to the new musical of hit Brit film Made in Dagenham.
With catchy tunes, a strong narrative and feisty female protagonists fleshing out a based-on-a-true-story series of events that reshaped workers’ rights in Britain, it should have been a sure-fire success. And yet it wasn’t. Conspiracy theories abound, but what this joyous revival proves is what many of us knew all along: it’s a great night’s entertainment.
How apt that it is the hard-working but under-funded Queen’s, in a co-production with the New Wolsey, Ipswich, to stage the first revival, given its proximity to the piece’s setting at the Ford Dagenham car plant. There Rita O’Grady (Daniella Bowen) becomes a reluctant spokesperson for equal pay, after the female Ford workers are summarily reclassified as “unskilled”. Her fight, tentative at first but supported by comradely camaraderie from voluble colleagues, takes her all the way to Westminster, to the bemusement of her unassuming husband.
Douglas Rintoul’s lovely, lively production, staged with a charismatic group of actor-musicians on a sensibly spare set, bubbles with ebullient good humour, but isn’t afraid to let the bad times have their moments too. It’s wonderful to see not one but two older actresses given space to flourish: Angela Bain is a hoot as Rita’s sharp-tongued colleague Beryl and Claire Machin has fun as Barbara Castle.
I urge you to take the District line to take a look.