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Made in Dagenham the Musical at LIPA ***1/2

April 27, 2017

The story of the feisty Ford seamstresses and their 1968 fight for equal pay became a box office winner when the film of Made in Dagenham was released in 2010.

Four years later it was turned in to a stage musical, starring Gemma Arterton in the lead role of Rita O’Grady.

But despite a pedigree team behind the show (One Man Two Guvnors writer Richard Bean did the book, and Sherlock/Independence Day/Bond composer David Arnold the music), it had a woefully short run in the West End due to poor ticket sales.

Which is short-changing what is actually a show with a lot to recommend it – not least a strong narrative, some sympathetic characters, a rich vein of comedy, some nifty lyrics (from Richard Thomas) and rousing, if not terribly memorable, melodies.

Happily, management students at LIPA could see its potential, and they have driven the production process while second year actors take on performing duties in what’s yet another ambitious staging by students at the Mount Street college.

When the women who stitched the seating at Ford’s Dagenham plant had their work downgraded to unskilled, they didn’t take it sitting down, and started a fight which ground the entire plant to a halt, involved their counterparts at Liverpool’s Halewood factory, and eventually led to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act.

Made in Dagenham marries the big picture with the human stories of people struggling to get by, and fighting each other as well as the system.

Helena Mayberry plays the pivotal role of Rita – and ordinary woman thrown in to an extraordinary situation - with an impressive, calm confidence, while there is also an empathetic, understated turn by Jak Malone as her uncomprehending husband Eddie.

But this is a real tale of girl power, where the men are painted as sexist, smug, patronising or Neanderthal. Or, in the case of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, as a cavorting eejit.

 

Jack Herauville has great fun as the late Wirral Grammar School for Boys head boy and Huyton MP, while Kelly Litt chews the scenery as the brash American boss who flies in to sort out the limey losers.

But aside from the all-singing, all-dancing girls of the machine room, the stage really belongs to Katie Ball’s brilliant turn as plain-speaking ‘minister for managing the unions’ Barbara Castle.

There’s one major issue that just stops this being the four star production that it really is, and that is a struggle with sound issues that need urgent remedy.

The big ensemble numbers are impressively rich and melodic, but solo voices are swamped by the volume level of the backing band, and the music often drowns out sections of dialogue too, which is frustrating.

And while most of the action takes place on stage, some key scenes are taken down on to the floor at the front of the stalls – and promptly out of the sight of audiences in parts of the balcony.

Main photograph by Joshua Davies.

 

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