Saying a production belies its ‘amateur’ status is a phrase you will often read in a theatre review, almost to the point where it borders on cliché. What the audience of WBOS’s superlative production of Made in Dagenham were lucky enough to witness, however, could have graced any professional stage. For a local company, it was almost impossible to find fault, from the principals to the chorus, through to the stunningly good band, brilliant choreography and fantastic direction. You don’t see theatre of this calibre every day.
Made in Dagenham is a touching story about the Essex town’s factory workers’ fight for equal rights and fair play. In a man’s world, we witness the daily struggles of ‘busy women’ desperately trying to run a home, raise their children and graft every day for very little money, just to make ends meet. Their world is turned upside down when the management at their local Ford plant is going to downgrade their status to unskilled workers, causing unrest amongst the workforce. The situation comes to a head when machinist Rita O’ Grady, played by the precociously talented Rachel Davies, is nominated to talk to the management and express their outrage. Their twisted, misogynist views only force the women to storm out of the meeting and straight onto the picket line. This has far-reaching consequences in more ways than one.
Being a figurehead for a nationally publicised strike leaves Rita’s life in tatters, nearly costing her; her children, her marriage to Eddie (John Wetherall) and her sense of who she is. She stays resolute, however, and supported by her comrades, gives the speech of her life to bring about the equality they have fought so desperately for.
One of the remarkable things about this production is the strength in depth in the performances. Made in Dagenham has well over a dozen numbers sung by different members of the company and every one of them was on point. Tim Jones gave a hilarious turn as hapless Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, brilliantly supported by his foppish dancing civil servants. Sarah Moors was excellent as “Secretary of State for taking on the Unions”, Barbara Castle. Lorraine Foggin’s Beryl may have turned the theatre blue, but the show was richer for it. These are a select few of a raft of wonderful performances which just kept on coming.
The production team also need to be congratulated for putting together this extraordinary achievement. Musically, it was faultless. Every harmony was tight and the chorus blended together beautifully, even during the energetic dance routines. When the whole company was onstage and just singing out, however, the sound they produced was spine-tingling. The set was wonderfully effective, capturing the industrial feel of the factory perfectly, whilst seamlessly becoming a house, or a Whitehall office.
This production defied all expectations, even from a company as talented as WBOS, and should you have the opportunity to see this towering triumph, you will not be disappointed.
Made in Dagenham runs until Saturday 28 May at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.
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