After the success of that other strike musical Billy Elliot is was only a matter of time before the 2010 film Made in Dagenham was given the stage treatment. It tells the true story of the Ford sewing machinists that went on strike in 1968 to fight for equal pay for women. Whilst perhaps not a huge moment in most history books, it is certainly a key moment in the movement for equality and is a story that deserves to be told.
For the women involved this was very much a team effort so it is difficult to connect with the human story in the way that Billy Elliot sucks you heart wrenchingly in, but is nonetheless engaging and displays a depth to it that humours rather than touches. Rupert Goold makes the most of the sixties backdrop in this fun and energetic telling of the revolution that happened in Dagenham. There are plenty of tongue in cheek moments and some real off the wall yet dazzling concept pieces that could only come from the cannon of Goold (notably the outrageous head of Ford USA played splendidly by Steve Furst).
In a steady book by increasingly popular Richard Bean and with some toe tapping tunes from David Arnold this is a musical that will cause no revolution in the musical world but does deserve to find an audience of some kind. The lyrics by Richard Thomas, yes he that penned Jerry Springer the Opera, are nicely inoffensive rather than the acerbic that we may have expected. It is the wild imagination of Goold and the extraordinary creativity of designer Bunny Christie that really get this show shifting along the conveyor belt. Christies Airfix style designs especially make for a dazzling display of industrial high jinx.
It is unassuming house wife Rita O’Grady that leads the ladies of Ford Dagenham to take a stand for equal pay that changed industrial relations forever with the company. Gemma Arterton makes her musical debut with a powerful punch and is full of presence and genuine likeability. She can definitely hold a tune and looks great in those sixties mini skirts! Arterton also manages to pull back the pace a little with some touching moments that see her struggling to hold her family together playing opposite a strong performance from Adrain Der Gregorian as husband Eddie.
The other women around Rita are all characters in their own right and all contribute their own unique comedy touch. Particularly notable are Sophie Stanton as the hilariously raucous Beryl and the ever elegant Isla Blair as shop steward Connie.
Mark Hadfield’s comic play on Harold Wilson is an odd choice but is at the same time laugh out loud funny most of the time. Sophie-Louise Dann’s ballsy Barbara Castle plays straight man to Hadfield and makes a valiant effort at bringing the politics of the piece into reign, even if it is with tongue somewhat in cheek.
There is so much to like about Made in Dagenham, but where it will sit amongst other West End shows and quite who it will appeal to in terms of an audience I am not sure.