Last week I went to the theatre for the first time in what seems like forever (actually only three months!). My hiatus has mainly been due to a lack of interest in the West End’s current offering. I’ve either already seen the new arrivals (Memphis, Urinetown …) or they just didn’t appeal to me (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Forbidden Broadway …). Anyway, the only musical I knew very little about was Made in Dagenham (I’ve not seen the film) so I thought I would give it a shot before I started work this month. I have very mixed feelings on this production, so hopefully, this review will be an interesting one!
Made in Dagenham
Made in Dagenham is a completely new musical version of the 2010 film of the same name. The plot centres around the Ford sewing machinists strike of the 1960’s; naturally, themes of equality and feminism are at the centre of the piece.
Sadly, I don’t think it works as a musical, at least in this incarnation. My biggest criticism is the distinct contradiction between the fluffy, happy go lucky music presented and the important issues at hand. By trying to create an uplifting musical, they’ve trivialized the importance of feminism.
The book lent the piece no favours. The factory women were portrayed as ditzy and ‘not into politics’ as though they just miraculously dropped into the path of strike action. Furthermore, their ‘loving’ husbands complained in song about their own inability to do household chores as though that meant their wives should stop striking and get back to the kitchen.
Furthermore, the plot came to no robust conclusion. Without wanting to give anything away, the end of the second act didn’t robustly answer the plot dilemma built up in the first. Given that I’ve not seen the film, I’m unsure whether these criticisms stem from the source material, but I definitely have some more that were in the hands of the musical creators…
The songs were weak. Although mildly enjoyable at the time I cannot remember any of them three days later. Their lyrics were poor, often repeating themselves to death within the framework of a three-minute song. Some songs carried the plot, others seemingly came out of nowhere, particularly the first number in the second act which contained an American owner of Ford singing about the contrast between America and England and resulted in a set of camo clad females with guns entering the stage. There was even a song devoted to the incapability of the men working in the factory which went right against the core of feminism … feminism isn’t about bringing men down.
I also thought the whole piece tried too hard to be funny. It was full of obvious, tired, done to death jokes and tried to use swearing to comedic effect. The fact that people still find repeated swearing funny makes me very concerned about the intellect of our nation.
This Production of Made in Dagenham
If you’re a regular West End audience member this production contains a lot of familiar faces. If you’re not a regular West End audience member this production contains Gemma Arterton in the lead role. The cast gave a great performance of a relatively lacklustre piece – oddly the choreography was almost nonexistent, apparently as a woman striking involves overly exaggerated slow motion walking whilst swaying one’s arms. Gemma Arterton was adequate but didn’t turn in a star performance … she can sing relatively well though!
Mark Hadfield’s portrayal of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Sophie-Louise Dann’s portrayal of then employment secretary Barbra Castle were the saving grace of the production. They delivered excellent caricatures and were genuinely funny.
I also really liked the set. The whole framework was based on the press out plastic sheets of parts for model toys, which I thought was an innovative way of depicting a factory! Having said that we did have a brief show stop because a strip of wood got stuck in the tracks that the set pieces move along … my first ever show stop!
My Verdict on Made in Dagenham
I enjoyed the production more than this review probably suggests. It is a high-quality production, it is an enjoyable evening out (a lot of the audience appeared to love it) I just think it has a lot of flaws and I’m not sure turning it into a musical was really necessary given that I found the music quite weak! I give Made in Dagenham a rating of 2.5/5.
You can now relive this production with the Original London Cast Recording*!