REVIEW: Who Needs Chelsea? Made In Dagenham Is Much More Fun
I’m thinking about starting a revolution. Who’s with me? I haven’t figured out what we’re fighting for yet, but if Made In Dagenham’s anything to go by, we'll have a lot of fun.
The show, inspired by true events, tells the story of the 1968 Ford Machinists Strike in Dagenham, Essex, which was a significant step in achieving equal pay for men and women in the UK. Maybe that doesn’t sound like the stuff successful musicals are made of, but then you could say the same about Billy Elliot, and look how that turned out.
Firstly, if you’re after a serious dissection of the politics surrounding the strike, this is not the show for you. Made In Dagenham is a light-hearted and completely one-sided celebration of feminism. From the opening number - ‘If you want something done then ask a busy woman, because you’re wasting your time asking a man’ - it’s pretty clear which team we’re supposed to be cheering for. And that’s even before we’ve been treated to the sight of Prime Minister Harold Wilson twirling around his office singing about the Balance of Payments, or heard Eddie, who’s just forgotten his tenth wedding anniversary, offer as his defence: ‘I’m just a man, with a foolish brain.’
Gemma Arterton stars as strike leader Rita O’Grady, risking everything to stand up for what she believes in. What begins as a small-scale dispute over her own job ultimately leads her to take on the male-dominated unions and government in a fight for equal pay. Arterton is a great choice to play Rita; she pulls off a perfect combination of inspirational and down-to-earth, so that by the time she comes to give her big speech at the end of the show, I'm sure I wasn't the only one ready to jump to my feet and join in.
But Arterton isn’t the only cast member worthy of note; Sophie-Louise Dann and Mark Hadfield have some of the funniest scenes as Barbara Castle and Harold Wilson, and I think we all fell a little bit in love with Adrian der Gregorian as Rita’s husband Eddie (he of the foolish brain), in his fumbling attempts to support his wife and look after their two children while she’s out campaigning.
The only thing that lets the show down, at times, is the music. While there are some great songs in there - "In An Ideal World" and "The Letter" are two examples - other numbers feel superfluous and almost like they’re just there to fill some time. The second act opener, a slightly random celebration of everything that’s great about America, could have lifted right out and it would have made no difference at all. Meanwhile, other songs serve only as a way to summarise events over an extended period of time, and as a result end up dragging on a bit.
So, is Made In Dagenham the best musical I’ve ever seen? Not quite. But is it a fun way to spend an evening? Absolutely! It made me pretty proud to be a woman, and educated me a little bit on an important point in British history that I didn't know much about before. So I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it before it closes in April, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun night out!
I’m serious about that revolution, by the way.