A fictionalised version of the true story of the sewing machinist’s strike at Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968, where the female workers walked out in protest against unequal pay for equally skilled work, Made in Dagenham is based on (but not wholly a copy of) Nigel Cole’s 2010 film of the same name. It drops many of the movie characters, introduces some new ones and expands parts of the storyline only touched on in the film version.
The stage version had a short, and somewhat problematic life in the West End in 2014, this time it’s tackled by the students of the Dance School of Scotland. What is always guaranteed from this unique school is quality, total professionalism and commitment to any work they tackle, however, the issues that plagued the musical’s short run in the West End remain. The book takes what feels like an eternity to get anywhere and the score, while lively in part, lacks the standout tunes that make a successful production ( Stand Up) the show closer, is the only one that gets near. It’s laudable that any show gives voice to women and to a life-changing moment in British history, but it’s unsubtly done, too caricatured and over-long.
That said, there’s terrific work from Charlotte Power (meant to play the role later in the week, but stepping in due to illness) as Rita O’Grady – the heart and soul of the dispute and the force behind the law change in 1970. The supporting cast of women (played by these high school aged pupils) also manage to breathe believable life into their parts, steering them clear of exaggeration and keeping them wholly realistic. The boys, while portraying men from an utterly different era, one of out-right sexism and derision towards woman, play it a lit bit too broad, too stereotypical, a little too out-there comedic. One wonders if these were directorial choices, or dictated by the script.
There were also issues to overcome with a band that totally overwhelmed the singers at points, (the venue can’t be blamed as it was purpose built for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with world-class acoustics) and poor and rushed diction (nerves may be to blame on this opening night) that rendered a lot of the script inaudible.
The sheer energy and vitality with which the company attacked the material, elevated it above the source material, and one can’t fault the commitment of each and every performer. With better material to work with this company of performers are sure to go far.