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Made in Dagenham: A landmark West End musical

| Theatre | 14/01/2015

Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre.
Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre.

Inspired by a true story, Rupert Goold’s Made in Dagenham is absorbing, inspiring and remarkable. It is no easy feat to transform a much loved British film into a hit West End production- but Goold has certainly delivered one of this year’s best new musicals. Made in Dagenham continues a trend of trade union based West End productions, first there was The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury, and now at the Adelphi, a show that delivers a strong feminist message with strong captivating and emotional performances. Made in Dagenham is a show not to be missed –it’s simply astonishing.

The story of is one that is known to almost every British ear, but to those not to familiar here’s a quick snapshot. At a Ford Dagenham plant in 1968 women sewing machinists embark on a landmark strike for equal pay. The women led by Rita O’Grady are protesting at the sexist decision to classify them as lesser skilled workers by white collar bureaucrats, who lack both the ability and skills to know how to use a sewing machine, let alone produce 300 garments a day. What began in Dagenham 1968 paves the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970- although arguably this is one issue that still rumbles on today.

Gemma Arterton and the Made in Dagenham cast. Adelphi Theatre.

Gemma Arterton and the Made in Dagenham cast.

Made in Dagenham is one West End show bursting to the rim with talent. Of course there is no question to who the emerging star of the production is. Gemma Arterton as the determined Rita O’Grady is a stunning marvel on-stage. Her determination shines through -‘I’m not a Communist, I’m not a Marxist, I’m a machinist!’ Arterton shouts out at one point. Arterton comes out of the dark shadows and is as impressive on-stage as she is on screen. Her TUC speech where she belts asks all women everywhere to ‘stand-up’ for the cause –I half expected the auditorium to be on its feet cheering her on. Her natural ability shines through her voice which has charm, elegance and pure ferocity when needed. O’Grady is a graceful actress who packs a punch; a natural heartfelt performance. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Arterton wins her What’s on Stage Best Actress in a Musical award.)

But this is not a one woman show and there is feast of talent. There are many powerful vocals amongst the female workers. Sophie Isaacs, as Sandra, has a larger-than-life voice which touches on the astounding; Sophie Stanton is a delight as straight-talking Berly and provides the comical one-liners. Sophie-Louise Dann as Minister Barbara Castle imbues all the abrasiveness of her character – she really is as ‘fiery like her hair.’ Whilst Isla Blair and long-term love interest and union man David Cardy, as Connie and Monty respectively, are touching and moving additions to the show.

Made in Dagenham cast. Adelphi Theatre.

Made in Dagenham cast.

This is a show that ticks all the boxes- acting, set-design, musical-scores, direction, costumes, and lightning –to name a few. Writer Richard Bean has taken the bull by the horns in his comic approach to the story –there are numerous satirical moments involving Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Made in Dagenham is not only a vocally pleasing show but a visual feast for the eyes. Bunny Christie’s set and costume designs are a visual delight.

Made in Dagenham is simply a delight. This is by far one of the best British musicals of recent years. Its cast are astounding, its set designs are brilliant and its story really does send you on an emotional rollercoaster. This is the show the West End has been yearning for, and now it is here, it is not to be missed.

Written by Sandip Kana | @sandipkana

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