Review: Made in Dagenham, Musicality, Nottingham Arts Theatre

Musicality, Nottingham University’s musical theatre society, present the popular Made in Dagenham with bags of energy, considerable singing talent and an enthusiasm which sweeps the audience along with them.  On at Nottingham Arts Theatre until Saturday 16th February, it’s a great escape from current political ineptitude and may even provide a ray of hope that the seemingly insurmountable can be conquered.

Made in Dagenham 'Stand Up'

Made in Dagenham is another in a long line of British stories, like Brassed Off and The Full Monty, where the working class underdogs become the heroes, and out of the gritty, grim reality dawns hope and justice.  It tells the true story of the women workers at Ford’s Dagenham factory who in 1968 went out on strike after being re-classified as unskilled. It charts their pursuit of equal pay through the Wilson government and reflects on the impact it also had on the domestic lives, and attitudes, of those involved.

And if all that sounds a bit serious – well, it is, in that it gives the story heart and truth, and something to really ‘Stand Up’ for – but it is also supremely funny, entertaining and bursting with great songs.  The opening song ‘ A Busy Woman’ is key to setting the tone and energy level for the show and Claire Wimbush as Rita O’Grady does this superbly.  She has an instinctive feel for the habits and actions of a young mother trying to get the family out the door on a busy morning. Her voice is rich and bright, her diction clear and her expression spot on.  Playing opposite her as Eddie O’Grady, Jack Matthews is every inch the caring, if forgetful, husband and also displays a lot of emotion in his performance. His rendition of ‘The Letter’ is very touching and the connection they have as a couple is very believable.

Made in Dagenham Rita

Much of the humour of the show comes from the various characters in the machining room in the factory.  Beryl is the foul-mouthed, ‘grand dame’, and Rowena Fry relishes the opportunity to make her larger than life. Clare is the ‘nice but dim’ girl, never quite finding the words to express herself but really charming when delivering the song ‘Wossname’.  Siska Greene as Sandra has lots of sass and an amazing voice which riffs into the stratosphere!

Made in Dagenham Wossname

The presentation of the Prime Minister Harold Wilson is quite fascinating. A real-life political figure and not one known for his sense of humour, in this show he becomes a sort of clowning caricature of all things northern and misogynistic. Paolo Elias gets the Yorkshire accent spot on, his comedy timing is great and his choreography so ambitious, he looks like he should be in Billy Elliot instead!  His right hand woman, Barbara Castle, is played by Carla Davison with great assurance. It’s a difficult role, at once serious and made comedic, and the song ‘Ideal World’ is one of the most tricky, with changes of pace and key but she has a strong, controlled voice and carries this with great style. Likewise Lucy Avery as Connie, the union rep, shows the depth of her anger at years of being unfairly treated in her emotional song.

Made in Dagenham Harold Wilson

There are so many more individual performances to admire but the thing that really stirs the audience are the group numbers, where complicated harmonies produce a powerful sound and the youthful energy of the whole cast is brought to bear.  This is a hard working team with a huge amount of talent and it is well managed by the director Thomas Outhwaite to make the most of the pathos and comedy of the show.  A great evening’s entertainment to dispel the February gloom.

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