Sport Editor Olli Meek enjoyed GMTG’s latest triumphant musical depicting female Ford workers fight for equal pay
The Guild Musical Theatre Group (GMTG) return to the Deb Hall stage for their second show of the year in a loud, proud, and impactful production of Made in Dagenham. The musical, which made its debut on the London stage in 2014, is based on the Ford sewing machinist’s strike of 1968 and follows the journey of Rita O’Grady (Lucy Robinson) to changing trade union legislation in the fight for gender-equal pay.
The story opens by introducing the two main groups; the men working in the factory on the cars and the women who sew the seats together, with these introductions carrying through multiple numbers. They all combine fierce pride and deprecating antipathy in their east-London hometown of Dagenham, the setting for the majority of the musical, with other forays into Westminster and down to the south coast for the Trade Union Conference at Eastbourne. The cast worked with a real sense of community, and the humour that was essential to the success of the show was present in abundance. Notable mentions must to go to Katie Logie in the role of Beryl and Francesca Hayman as Clare for their role in this, their east-end tones carrying the script off to a tee. The script was also performed in a way that introduced a juxtaposition between the serious political undertones and blunt witticisms, in some instances the scene was charged to the extent that when the punchline was delivered the audience didn’t know whether to laugh or gasp.
Robinson gave a barnstorming performance throughout in the lead role, creating an electric atmosphere and prompting a standing ovation during the concluding bows. Her consistently strong and measured delivery was enjoyable to watch and invited the audience to totally invest in her character and cause throughout. Other musical highlights include Steph Lindo’s powerful rendition of Connie’s Song, Tash Wills’ Ideal World as Barbara Castles, which gained one of the loudest, most positive receptions of the night, and Sam Lubkowski’s The Letter as Eddie O’Grady. However, in picking out highlights one runs the risk of glossing over the main strength of the show, which was the whole cast working as one. The collective is what this musical is all about, the cast being in unison, the political movement that is all encompassing in the world of the Ford factory. It must be noted that the ensemble, dance team, factory workers and figures in power create a production that fits together and delivers its message in a wonderful manner under Sophia Donnelly’s brilliant direction.
The set design from Thomas Kershaw-Green perfectly encapsulated the overall aesthetic and was especially impactful in the second act. Downstage was open and without fixed set other than some tyres providing dressing. The use of a projector screen provided a pragmatic way to change settings and was moved as needed to utilise the saloon-door-esque sheets of corrugated metal that formed another entrance upstage centre between two flights of stairs. Chun Yeung’s bombastic entrance to This is America as Mr Tooley really set the tone for the second act. Not 18 months ago Tooley would have been a laughable character, a ridiculous caricature of the worst prejudices and actions in a man that one would hope has been left in the past; however when comparisons are made between him and recently emergent figures in the US establishment, the musical becomes hideously current, despite being set in the 1960s. We are reminded as an audience that rather than this being a historical case study of which we are now removed, prejudice and discrimination of whatever form is still prevalent in far too many walks of life and circumstances, and no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, it must be shouted down. The portrayal of Prime Minister Harold Wilson by Alastair Winning was also a triumph, his double-faceted delivery of comedy and ignorance forcing the audience to acknowledge that the struggles prevalent in the piece that still manifest themselves in the world today are issues very much on our doorstep.
Musicals often deliver messages transcending time and circumstance and Made in Dagenham is no exception, another moment in which the cast compounded this being their powerful and haunting performance of Storm Clouds. The dejected workers emerged and relayed their experience of living on the bread line during the strike in a total contrast with the triumphant first half that finished with the fantastic Everybody Out demonstrating the ups and downs of their emotional fight for equality.
Overall it is impossible not to be moved by this production. It was a gritty, charming, feel-good show in which the cast have the audience in the palm of their hands from the outset and the performers did total justice to the combination of elements that make up this finely balanced piece.