Culture Critic Ruth Horsburgh interviews two of Birmingham’s own students, as they discuss the Med School ARTE’s upcoming production of ‘Made in Dagenham’
In anticipation of reviewing ARTE’s production of Made in Dagenham later on this month, I was able to interview the leading lady, Iona Donnelly, and director, Eve Laycock, about what promises to be an enjoyable student production.
Firstly, tell me about ARTE as a society.
ARTE is a performing arts society that is part of ‘medsoc’ (The Birmingham Medical Society – a group of societies open to anyone who is part of the College of Medical and Dental sciences). We put on two shows every year, a musical in the first term and a play in the second. People in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences can get involved by auditioning to be in the cast, band, production team or tech team.
The name ARTE was picked 23 years ago by a group of students who started the society as a joke and I’m not entirely sure what it stands for exactly, but I do know it’s not PC! Since then the society has become increasingly serious, with improvements being made every year, as new people with fresh ideas and talents join us.
A dispute at a car plant is not necessarily the most obvious choice for the setting of a musical! What is Made In Dagenham about?
Eve: Made In Dagenham is a musical based on a true story about the women factory workers who worked in the Ford car factory in Dagenham, Essex in 1968. It follows the group of women, led by Rita O’Grady (played by Iona) who make the brave decision to go on strike in order get equal pay with the men who also work at the factory. We follow the fight for equal pay from many perspectives including, the prime minister at the time, Harold Wilson, the American Director or Ford, the factory managers and of course the women themselves! This moving and poignant musical is also bursting with comedy and intertwined with 17 show stopping numbers. Adults of all ages will really enjoy it.
The many different settings in this musical has made staging and scenery quite a challenge! I have tried to be as creative as possible in order to display the many different locations. Some of the cast are very dedicated prop and set builders who have been working hard to create the illusion of a car factory all on a student budget!
Have you ever performed in a musical before?
Iona: Yes, I have performed in many shows. My first experience of performing was when I played the title role in my primary school nativity of “The Grumpy Sheep” in which I had to stomp around the stage saying “Bah Humbug”. Since then, I have taken part in many church pantomimes and other school shows. My favourite role was playing Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray”. I also got the opportunity to perform in an off West End production of “Annie” at the age of 15 when I was a finalist in a singing competition. At university, I have taken part in all of the musicals performed by ARTE, most recently playing Mrs Sherman in “Fame” and I also took part in last year’s play “Noises Off” playing Dotty/ Mrs Clackett.
How is balancing student work/stress with rehearsals going?
Iona: The musical does require a lot of dedication and time. We started rehearsing in September and we have been rehearsing 3 times a week since then. Most recently we have been using the weekends as well (spending almost 20 hours rehearsing last weekend). But luckily Eve is the most enthusiastic and positive person and she creates such an amazing atmosphere in rehearsals. The cast, band and tech team are all really lovely, so even though it is hard work, it is also a lot of fun!
A great element about this production is that all the proceeds are going to charity, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Edhi Foundation. Why have these two particular charities been chosen?
Iona: With regard to the Alzheimer’s Society, the number of people with dementia is steadily increasing and most people will probably know somebody that suffers from it. Therefore, it is a charity very close to a lot of our members’ hearts. It is an unforgiving disease. The charity provides support for families as well as research into a cure. A very worthwhile cause that needs as much support as it can get!
The Edhi Foundation is a charity special to one of the ARTE member’s heart as it was the favourite charity of their grandparents, who both passed away this year. Raising money for the Edhi foundation is ARTE’s way of honouring their memory and supporting that ARTE member. The charity is devoted to helping those in need in Pakistan, where almost half the population lives below the poverty line. It provides the most reliable Pakistani ambulance service, shelter and education for orphans, emergency relief after natural disasters and acts of terrorism, and so much more to help people in their time of need.
Finally, why should people come and see the show?
People should come and see the show because it will be a great night full of hilarious jokes, amazing 60s music but also a beautiful and empowering story about women’s rights. Plus, all the proceeds go to charity!
ARTE will be performing ‘Made in Dagenham’ on the following dates:
Wednesday 23rd November – 7.30pm (doors open 7pm)
Thursday 24th November – 7.30pm
Friday 25th November – 7.30pm
Saturday 26th November – 7pm (doors open 6.30pm)