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A CurtainUp London London Review
Made in Dagenham

"Made in Dagenham. Paid in Dagenham. Laid in Dagenham." — Lyrics to "Made in Dagenham"
Made in Dagenham
Cast in Made in Dagenham with the Cortina 1600E (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I didn't see the film of Made in Dagenham (2010) about the women workers at Ford's UK Plant in Dagenham Essex who went on strike for equal pay in 1968. I remember 1968 and the revolutions of that year: the occupation of Hornsey College of Art and the London School of Economics, the anti Viet Nam War demonstrations and the student protests in France. Maybe I was then more interested in student protest than women's employment rights but I do know that the unions were very strong at Ford and there were lots of strikes there, mostly about issues for the male fitters and engineers, not sexual equality.

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.

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Made in Dagenham
Music by David Arnold
Book by Richard Bean
Lyrics by Richard Thomas
Based on the Woolley/Karlsen/Number 9 Motion Picture
Directed by Rupert Goold

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Adrian der Gregorian, Isla Blair, Sophie-Louise Dann, Steve Furst, Mark Hadfield, Sophie Isaacs, Julius D'Silva, Naomi Frederick, David Cardy, Heather Craney, Sophie Stanton
With: Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Thomas Aldridge, Kath Duggan, Scott Garnham, Ian Jerys, Paul Kemble, Emma Lindars, Jo Napthine, Tracey Penn, Gemma Salter, Gareth Snook, Rachel Spurrell, Karli Vale, Rene Zagger, Kate Coysten, Christopher Howell, Scott Page, Emily Squibb

Children: Grace Doherty, Annie Guy, Gemma Fray, Ivy Pratt, Harry Marcus, Ben Mineard, Tommy Rodger, Josh Shadbolt
Designed by Bunny Christie
Choreographer: Aletta Collins
Music Supervisor: Phil Bateman
Orchestration by Steve Sidwell
Musical Director: Tom Deering
Sound Design: Richard Brooker
Video Design by Treatment
Lighting Design: Jon Clark
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 3725 7060
Booking to 28th March 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on November 5th 2014 performance at the Adelphi, Strand, WC2E 7NA (Tube: Charing Cross)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "Busy Woman"
  • "Made in Dagenham"
  • "This Is What We Want"
  • "The Union Song"
  • "Wossname"
  • "Always A Problem"
  • "Busy Woman" Reprise
  • "Made in Dagenham" Reprise
  • "Sorry I Love You"
  • "School Song"
  • "Connie's Song"
  • "Everybody Out"
Act Two
  • "This is America"
  • "Storm Clouds Montage"
  • "Cortina!"
  • "The Letter"
  • "In An Ideal World"
  • "We Nearly Had it All"
  • "Viva Eastbourne"
  • "Stand Up"
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