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Made in Dagenham (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Made in Dagenham

Society: WWOS (West Wickham Operatic Society)

Venue: Churchill Theatre Bromley. High Street, Bromley, Kent BR1 1HA

Credits: Book by Richard Bean. Music by David Arnold. Lyrics by Richard Thomas. Based on Woolley/Karlsen/Number 9 Motion Picture.

Made in Dagenham

4 stars

“Rome wasn’t built in a day but Dagenham certainly was,” quip the family at the centre of this warm hearted David and Goliath story. Dagenham, of course, was the heart of Ford Motors in England. In 1968 it employed 5000 men and 200 hundred women. And that was the problem. The women who skilfully made the seat covers were not paid on the same grades as skilled men. In the end the “monster” (or Henry Ford, at least) is overcome, the women get their way and the feel good factor flows abundantly.

It’s a popular show for amateur societies at present because the performance rights are available and who could fail to warm to a couple of hours of 1960s-inspired music?  Moreover, it’s full of meaty character roles for talented people and West Wickham operatic society has plenty of those. Andy Moore, for example, is hilarious and very accomplished as the pipe smoking, self-interested, rather ridiculous Harold Wilson prancing round his office although I think I was the only person in the audience old enough to get the Gannex joke. Jacqui Morris is fun and beautifully observed as sweary Beryl and Victoria Watkins gives a truthful account of Connie, who has been fighting this cause all her life and now has breast cancer. Amanda Farrant’s Barbara Castle is good too – forceful, determined, passionate and, underneath it all, kind. I also liked Roxana King as the boss’s elegant, RP-speaking wife – much brighter than he is and eventually happy to support the factory women. It’s another well judged performance.

At the heart of it all, though, bravura work from Danielle Dowsett as Rita O’Grady who, somewhat reluctantly, becomes the women’s leader. Dowsett develops this character with total conviction all the way from struggling with the busy morning routine at home and getting two children off to school to a woman with the confidence to speak without notes, at the TUC Conference where she is so impassioned – segueing from speech into song that I found myself moved to tears. She sings magnificently, dances beautifully (Dowsett has a fine choreography track record) and brings naturalism and warmth to the role. She is the epitome of the “triple threat” concept.

As her husband, Eddie O’Grady, Shane King is variously blokeish, rueful, distressed and loving, It’s sensitive work and his singing in the letter scene is sublime.

This show needs two strong choruses – the men and the women in the factory along with a handful of other incarnations – and WWOS has produced them for this show. The choral sound is powerful and a great credit to musical director, Anne Greenidge whose 11-piece orchestra (tucked away out of sight behind the action) produces a lovely sound – especially the flute and trumpet.

It’s a good evening’s theatre not least because of the quality of the writing, both verbal and musical. Anyone (Richard Thomas in this case) who can rhyme “tampon” with “stamp on” gets my vote. Roll over WS Gilbert.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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