Many will be familiar with the movie “Made in Dagenham” based on the true story of the 1968 Ford machinists’ strike.
The strike began at the Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham works after the female sewing machinists were downgraded in a restructuring resulting in them being paid 15% less than the men at the plant doing the same category of work.
Outraged by this the women begin to protest only to find that even the union that represents them lacks equality and is more male dominated. The fight gradually turns to a battle not only to safeguard the womens skill-category but also as a way of getting equality in pay for women in general. It maybe hard for workers today to accept that it is only a few years ago that men and women doing the same job got such vast pay differences and it was the women at Dagenham who helped shape employment reforms.
So that’s the basis of the story, but is it possible to turn this into a musical and still maintain the passion of the women concerned? The answer is Yes!
A large and strong cast, possibly one of the strongest assembled on the New Wolsey stage to date tell the story with great passion. The script is based on the Richard Bean book with lyrics by Richard Thomas and music by David Arnold.
If you are a regular at the New Wolsey there’s lots of familiar actor-musician faces in the cast that you will recognise.
The musical follows the story of mum and Ford worker Rita played by Daniella Bowen who makes a welcome return to the Wolsey. Rita ends up not just fighting for her job and fellow workers but also her marriage.
The factory women are typical of what you find in any such factory, working mums, young girls and older more worldy women such as Beryl (Angela Bain) who say what they think…. including some pretty strong language!
All the musical numbers are strong and well-crafted meaning that do really tell the story well.
The strike went on from being a local protest to one that actually went nationwide and all the way up to very top of the British political ladder. The character of Harold Wilson makes an appearance but Wilson (played by Graham Kent) is portrayed as leader who actually was certainly not keeping up with the times and not really in touch with the people.
Political heavy-weight Barbara Castle supported the women and is portrayed excellently by Claire Machin putting in an amazing emotionally charged number near the end of the production.
The entire cast tell and perform this story so well, but special mention must go to Sophie-May Feek who plays Sandra in the closing number Sophie’s amazing voice powers over the entire cast…. simply amazing and a lady to look out for in the future.
Made in Dagenham the musical is a long production at just over 150 minutes, but it zips along, such is the quality of the writing and performances. It’s entertaining but highly emotional, it’ll make you want to get on your feet and scream support for these women (as did several of the audience on the night I was there).
The story may be about the Ford workers but this is no ordinary everyday musical, it’s a top of the range, Rolls Royce of a production.
Plays at The New Wolsey, Ipswich until 15 October
Box Office: 01473 295900
Review _ Mark Keable, Ipswich24