Friday, July 19

Made In Dagenham – University of Sheffield Performing Arts Society

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 University of Sheffield Performing Arts Society’s cast did not romanticise this. The protagonist, machinist Rita O’Grady was played with complete conviction by Isabel Butterworth. Butterworth was solidly impressive in both poignant and rousing moments and her acting painted intricately, the inter trauma of her decisions. With a strong and powerful singing voice this young lady is one to watch out for. Her initially bumbling husband, Eddie (Ben Jowett) played the perfect nemesis with the connection between them that was unbreakable and almost tangible. Jowett’s emotive delivery of ‘The Letter’ was one of the highlights of the show for me, as we were forced to see the male viewpoint of the change in women’s roles. Jowett gave a mature performance and his acting through song was exquisite.

Rita’s factory friends were a real motley crew! – Cass (Orlaith Day), Claire (Ammi Hunt), and Sandra (Katie Weller), each were very entertainingly….individually. Special mentions must go however the very talented Alice Bell as Connie Riley whose portrayal had depth and understanding of character and her vocal solo was show stoppingly heartfelt. Also, the hilarious Beryl (Liv Slater), Slater’s comedic timing of a very well written character was fabulous and her ‘colourful’ language was both authentic and realistic. I have to say this was probably the strongest performance of Beryl I have seen in a long while.

Vic Breach gave a solid performance as the intelligent, likeable and ‘trapped’; same issues – different class system; Lisa Hopkins, the wife of the Director of Ford, Dagenham. Breach worked tirelessly and with ease to establish the solidarity of ALL women at this time. Difficult role, well portrayed. Alfie Cowgill gave a calm and convincing performance of her husband and was totally believable.  Zara Walton as Barbara Castle was a thoroughly Yorkshire gal and her rendition of ‘Ideal World’ was wonderful – A sterling performance, aided by the sometimes, over exuberant Evan Donninger as The Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, these two were an extreme juxtaposition. It has to be noted that the comedy within the ‘book’ by Richard Bean is perfectly pitched to contrast the deep seated pathos and the wit and humour thus serving to give realism whilst communicating the powerfully emotive themes.

The ensemble were colourful, convincing and individual, their engagement and harmony work was strong however, it was when the all too frequent choreography kicked in that their impact was lost. Whilst some choreography such as the Ford Showroom and the picket lines worked very well and with clarity, I was baffled by much of the remainder which seemed irrelevant to the lyric/storyline and not aesthetically of the era.

I always feel a review should be productive as well as encouraging and honest and as a Director of Musical theatre for over 30 years and with respect ….A Directors job is to see the overall picture/vision and translate it to stage… Made in Dagenham has many scene changes, thus it is quite ‘clunky’ as a piece of musical theatre and there was an over reliance of blackouts in this production. I am aware that it is a University production and the stage crew are probably honing their skills but, many of the set changes could have been done by the cast without pauses in the action. The flow, entrances and exits are paramount to a director’s role and need to be addressed with some urgency as part of the learning curve of the young production team. Secondly, it was a shame to see some upstaging happening on stage, whilst the majority of the cast worked as a collective, several performers where oblivious to ‘team’ and this hindered the emotive journey of the show at times. Please watch out for this both as performers and in the ‘all seeing’ director role. The aesthetic journey is non-negotiable.

That said, the finale scene, Rita’s address to the TUC conference asks women to ‘stand up’ and that is exactly what the audience wanted to do, in support of the cause and of the cast! I thank you for my invite to the show and a wonderfully enlightening, comedic, emotional and uplifting night’s entertainment with some very strong performances. If you haven’t seen this show, you are missing a chance to see some real enthusiasm on stage.  It is at the Sheffield University Drama Studio, Shearwood Road until the 26th April 2024

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 24th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.