ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
Made in Dagenham
Made in Dagenham has quite some pedigree. Richard Bean has written the book for this musical based on the film. Richard Thomas who was a co-writer of Jerry Springer the Opera is the lyricist and Rupert Goold is the director. Composer David Arnold has many film scores and television series music including Sherlock to his name, and was responsible for the music at the closing ceremonies of both the Olympic and Paralympic games in London in 2012. Bunny Christie has designed the clever set, the surround of which looks like a giant grey plastic Airfix kit to build a model car, say a Ford Cortina.
Although the musical is based on a real life event much of the book is fiction, but comic: the intervention of Harold Wilson (Mark Hadfield with signature pipe and Gannex raincoat) and that of Barbara Castle (Sophie-Louise Dann), once the Minister of Transport who famously couldn't drive, and the flying over from America of the bosses of the Ford USA company, as part cowboy, part Mafia, so sunglasses and stetsons with a bow legged walk and lots of fireworks at the side of the stage. Just as well, as the opening night was November 5th, traditionally Bonfire Night in the UK, commemorating the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. And this is part of my beef with this production, the intervention of fiction into a real story especially when the American boss Tooley (Steve Furst) rifles through heroine Rita (Gemma Arterton)'s handbag and destroys the notes for her speech for the Trades Union Congress. As if that happened!
Another problem was hearing the lyrics from the women singing as a group. They were probably really witty but you can't laugh if you can't hear them. The men were far better when singing as a group and I think that comment is also true for the men soloists although Sophie-Louise Dann was outstanding as the forceful socialist Barbara Castle. Gemma Arterton is a sweet actress and she has a nice voice but her voice lacks strength and range, which those trained in musical theatre are more likely to have.
The side story is of the women's liberation, one of the pressure put on the marriages of the women workers when their husbands (many living in Dagenham worked at Ford) were laid off because the women were not sewing the leatherette upholstery for the Cortina production line. There were two issues, firstly that they were on an unskilled grade and even on that grade they earned less than the men on the same grade. Rita also bonds with Lisa Hopkins (Naomi Frederick) wife of the English Ford Manager whom she meets at their sons' school and later Mrs Hopkins lends Rita a designer frock for the TUC conference. This seems unlikely and slightly patronising. I did enjoy housewife married to a manager, Lisa Hopkins' anarchic idea of wrecking the household supplies by buying one to the left of what she usually buys.
There are many positives: the wonderful set with its swinging conveyor belt and the chassis of a red Cortina above all the body parts. The real Cortina 1600 E driven on stage is iconic. I greatly enjoyed the aplomb with which Detroit bosses arrive in a helicopter to sort the strike. They sing a song about all the words we say differently in Britain to America, for example AW-re-GANO as opposed to o-REG-ANO and Parissian and Pareesian and rise on a platform surrounded by stars and stripes as they claim that Ford Dagenham is a part of America.
I also liked the political comedy scenes where Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson is caricatured with his northern accent and his three civil servant advisors in bowler hats and pinstripes. Sophie-Louise Dann is magnificent as the firebrand, red head Barbara Castle and her lovely strong voice delivers the lyrics with style and clarity. Adrian der Gregorian plays Rita's husband Eddie O'Grady and he is a strong singer and delivers the melodies with clarity and emotion. His emotional song "The Letter" is a pretty love song to his wife. The closing anthem at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress "Stand Up" is rousing as the congress adopt equal pay after Rita's speech and we see a row of middle aged trade unionist men stand one by one to applaud her.
The tunes need to be given a chance to grow on you and the choreography is minimal.
Facts. The 1968 women machinists' strike lasted for three weeks. The outcome was not re-grading but getting 8% less than the B grade men, so 92% of the male rate was then paid, rather than the previous 85%. Their action was part of the campaign for equal pay which led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act which came into force in 1975. In 1973 Britain had joined the European Economic Community which had made differential pay for equal work illegal in 1957.
From Blogger Elizanna's account. She lived in Dagenham and many of her family worked for Ford. She is writing about the 2010 film.
But the end of the film is not the end of the story. In 1984 there was another strike within Ford over 'grading' issues when it was revealed that the male/female pay divide still operated when women were assigned lower grades for jobs that were the equal of higher paid graded jobs for men.
In 1985 the design of the seat/covers was changed so that they were no longer made in the same way and the women lost their jobs to redundancy or transferred to other jobs elsewhere when production was outsourced [for a lower cost]
The highlight of the opening night for me was the curtain call where the cast were joined by a few of the women sewing machinists who had worked there in 1968.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.