Made in Dagenham, a musical based on the 2010 film with the same name, returns to its roots in a co-production between the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
Telling the story of the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, Made in Dagenham has one of the largest cast for a Queen’s Theatre production, 21 actor/musicians. With a book by Richard Bean, music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas, the musical originally ran in London between November 2014 and April 2015 and the whole show certainly has the feeling of a West End musical.
With a quite simple set, the cast and crew have scene transitions down to a tee. In the background a large grey screen allows them to use actors’ shadows in certain scenes and often props are used for multiple scenes, for example desks in the sewing rooms and offices.
On opening night I met some of the original women who were part of the 1968 strike and they told me how greatly they had enjoyed the score being played by the cast, as is traditional in Queen’s Theatre musicals. A few even suggested that this approach improved on the West End staging.
Rita O’Grady (played by Daniella Bowen) is the leader of the protest, central to the women’s trailblazing battle for equal pay. Bowen and Wendy Morgan’s Connie Riley do a fantastic job of pulling on the audience’s heart-strings. In Act II those watching appeared to be on the edge of their seats as they waited to see what would happen to the characters they had grown attached to during the first half of the evening.
The main villain of the night is Mr Tooley, played by Jeffrey Harmer, who really hits the nail on the head with a memorable rendition of the song ‘This is America’.
There is lots of laughter throughout the night. Angela Bain, as Beryl, often leaves the audience in fits of giggles with her dirty jokes, and any scene with Graham Kent always results in laughter as he plays Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the stand-up comedian Chubby Chuff.
There are plenty of comic references to Dagenham and the surrounding areas scattered around the musical. This is certainly a show that can be better appreciated by those who grew up in the area, including references to Collier Row, Romford and Oldchurch Hospital.
The whole production really is worthy of the West End and I would go so far as to say it’s the best show I’ve seen at the Queen’s Theatre (director Douglas Rintoul, choreographer Tim Jackson). I would encourage anyone in the surrounding areas to take this chance to witness a glimpse of history that happened just around the corner and is now being performed on our doorstep.