Tuesday, May 28

Made in Dagenham – Sheffield City Hall

Based on the 2010 film and centring around the Ford factory strike of 1968, ‘Made in Dagenham’ is the story based on the real life events that led up to the Equality Pay Act of 1970. As the female machinists in the factory were downgraded to ‘unskilled’ workers, the fight escalated into a full on war against the government and Trade Unions to secure equal pay for all workers regardless of gender. ‘It’s not about money it’s about equality!’ This small group of women, like all ground breakers, found that the battle had to be won in their home lives as well as the factory floor. As the principal character encapsulates with her poignant line in response to her young daughter’s career choice, ‘I laughed at her when she wanted to be a Doctor and bought her a nurse’s outfit instead’, but this was an era of change, a time when woman stood up and fought for their rights to earn more than ‘pin money’. A time to change perceptions and to change history whatever the cost.

With the book by Richard Bean, Music by David Arnold and Lyrics by Richard Thomas, ‘Made in Dagenham’ has all the ingredients of a gritty drama, and the Manor Operatic Society’s cast did not romanticise this. As like many theatrical societies, females are in the majority and this show was a perfect choice for this group. The multitude of strong female roles, allowed some of the more experienced ladies to shine. The protagonist, machinist Rita O’Grady was played with complete conviction by Emily Mae Hoyland and her vocals were a great mixture of powerhouse and storytelling beautifully highlighted in the song ‘Nearly Had It All’. Her initially bumbling husband, Eddie (James Smith) played the perfect nemesis with the connection between them that was unbreakable and almost tangible. Smith’s emotive delivery of ‘The Letter’ was the highlight of the show for me, as we were forced to see the male viewpoint of the change in women’s roles. Smith was pitched perfectly and his acting through song was exquisite.

Rita’s factory friends were a real motley crew! – Cass (Hannah Lancashire), Jo (Jennifer Hough), Rachel (Hayley Littler) and Emma (Jennifer Hughes), each were very entertainingly….individually. Special mentions must go however to Sandra played by Kirsty Taylor whose sass and vocal gymnastics were wonderful. Also, the hilarious Beryl (Fern Lynch-Bowers), Bush’s comedic timing of a very well written character was fabulous and her ‘colourful’ language was both authentic and realistic. Katie Doling as the Ditsy Claire had me laughing out loud and her facial tics and expressions could give Lee Evans a run for his money. Delightful to see.

Emily McGeoch as Barbara Castle put the character into caricature! Her rendition of’ Ideal World’ was wonderful – A sterling performance, aided by the hilarious Gary Rossiter as The Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, these two made the perfect comedic couple. It has to be noted that the comedy within the ‘book’ by Richard Bean is perfectly pitched to juxtapose the deep seated pathos and the wit and humour serve to give realism whilst communicating the powerfully emotive themes. Rachel Shomer gave a strong performance as the intelligent, likeable and ‘trapped’; same issues – different class system; Lisa Hopkins, the wife of the Director of Ford, Dagenham. Vaughan worked tirelessly and with ease to establish the solidarity of ALL women at this time. Difficult role, well portrayed.

The female ensemble were colourful, convincing and individual, their engagement and harmony work was beautiful. Andy Collis (Musical Director) did a wonderful job and the band sounded well throughout the show.  Joined on stage by a fifteen-strong male ensemble the choral work was both well balanced and emotive. The closing song of Act one – ‘Everybody Out’ was an impressive and intended wall of sound. The fluency of scene transitions were notable and well-staged and allowed the show to flow at speed, even with a few too many momentary blackout’s, particularly in the second act. As a very fragmented show this was a feat!

One of the most striking and brave things about this production is the Directors (Richard Bradford and Linda Kelly) understanding and loyalty to the ‘whole’ aesthetic package. Instead of the ‘easy’ video wall option, Bradford purposely retains the authenticity of the era and the venue. There was some complex staging, with multiple levels and no mean feat for a one day get-in, to install. But these added impact and I am sure by the second performance any first night hitches will have been perfected. Made in Dagenham had a strong sense of tight management with Directors who really did have their finger on the pulse of the show.

With authentic 60’s costumes Made in Dagenham transports us in a ‘Ford Cortina’; of course; to the factory floor, then takes us on the Houses of Parliament, the rousing TUC conference in Eastbourne; with a stop off or two at a friend’s home and a swift ‘Babycham’ in the club; all at break neck speed. The finale scene, Rita’s address to the TUC conference asks women to ‘stand up’ and that is exactly what the audience did tonight, in support of the cause and of the cast! A wonderfully enlightening, comedic, emotional and uplifting night’s entertainment. If you haven’t seen this show, you are missing a treat! It is at the Sheffield City Hall until the 14th May. https://www.manoroperatic.com/

Reviewed: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 11th May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★