MADE in Dagenham is a British musical based on the film of the same name about the female workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant who went on strike in 1968 to try and get equal pay to the men, a campaign which, despite helping create the momentum for the Equal Pay Act in 1970, is still continuing today, in the workplace, sport, and the Arts, and is surely a very worthy subject for the young cast performing it at Queens College Taunton this week.
It is only just over a year since the show finished its original run in the West End, and a professional actor-musician version has just finished a run in Ipswich, so this is a chance to see a very new show, with a book by Richard Bean, best known recently for One Man, Two Guvnors, and music by David Arnold, composer for five Bond movies and the man behind the music of the 2012 London Olympics.
With a professional set, props including sewing machines from the West End production, publicity including billboards outside the school, and the magical touch of Steve Evans, a director known to me from his professional acting and directing in Dorset and on tour, my expectations were certainly high as I made my way through the frosty, misty, Somerset countryside, and I was not to be disappointed.
This is not just another school production, great though many of them are, this was a step up, on every front, including make-up, costume, and choreography straight out of the 1960s. In the main role of Rita, India Lightwood has that cheeky quality that I am sure Gemma Arterton did in the original production, and George Wells, as her husband Eddie, brought the house down with his wonderfully sensitive ballad that delivered his leaving letter to Rita. It would seem that Harry Hughes and Katie Theobold (who reminded me of a young Diana Rigg), playing actual historical characters Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle respectively, have done their research on YouTube, because, despite their obvious ages, each brought great accuracy to the role, perhaps more like Mike Yarwood’s impressions than the actual people, but with great comic timing and strong, confident delivery. The gang of girls on strike each had their own individual character, and time had clearly been spent defining these distinct characters. Similarly the men, playing workers and management, were strong individually as well as the well-honed ensemble they became for bigger production numbers. Michael Franks as Mr Tooley from America got Act Two off to a great start, really speeding up the pace, and his song was not only staged well, with some very slick and tight dance moves, but his diction meant I caught every single one of the bad comparisons between the US and the UK – indeed some of the best comedy in this show is in the lyrics.
There is neither space nor time to name every actor, but special mention must go to Nell Hemansbrook for her delightful role as the rather snooty, yet very helpful, Mrs Hopkins, the trio of political aides, Maddie Baugh, Maria Nikitina and Caroline Junge, who added great physical humour to proceedings, and the wonderful band, under Ed Jenkins, including some beautifully sensitive underscoring on woodwind, flugelhorn and guitar.
This was a treat – to see such a recent show performed with such talent, zeal and energy. The students will all go on to different careers, not necessarily on the stage, but whatever they choose I hope they maintain this incredible talent, as professionals or amateurs, as they certainly know what they’re doing, and are a delight to watch. How much of this is down to nature, and how much down to the nurturing they are receiving at Queen’s, we will never know.