Made In Dagenham
Reviewed on Wednesday 5th November 2014
Hooray! A NEW British musical has opened in the West End which has a relevant story to tell! What's the catch? Sadly it's not quite up to scratch... yet.
Transporting us back to 1968, Made In Dagenham is inspired by a true story about a group of Essex girls working in a factory who went on strike demanding equal pay. Gemma Arterton plays Rita O’Grady who leads the girls on their mission, but soon discovers it isn't easy to organise a strike and maintain a happy family life at the same time. Nevertheless, Rita and her friends battle against Ford, refusing to back down.
I love the storyline and adore Made In Dagenham's empowering message. It is the perfect story for a musical. David Arnold's music has moments of glory. I hugely enjoyed the modern influences which create a recognisable musical theatre sound with the occasional twist (although some songs are significantly better than others). Richard Thomas' lyrics are often hilarious but are sometimes questionable. It becomes frustrating when the cast 'speak-sing' so much of the score.
Rupert Goold’s production doesn't open with a bang. The first five minutes are nice, but I wasn't pulled in from the start. The second number - the title song - is a significant improvement and I have been humming it ever since. The act one finale 'Everybody Out' is the best part of the show, everything about it is forceful and uplifting. However, I simply did not 'get' the act two opener 'This Is America'. The chorus is punchy, but it looks and sounds messy.
The factory girls have perfect chemistry, Richard Bean has written some hysterical lines which warm up the audience immediately. It's safe to say that some jokes are funnier than others. The press night audience seemed to be particularly generous with applause. I howled with laughter at some of the one-liners, but severely cringed at many lines too.
The design is mostly good, but lacks overall consistency. Letters spelling the musical’s title pop up throughout the show and in the interval several people questioned what they were representing. During one scene in particular I found myself distracted from Arterton and Adrian der Gregorian (who plays Eddie O’Grady, Rita's husband) who were acting for their lives as the stage was empty apart from two ginormous letters ('E' and 'A'). It just looked so bizarre and I lost interest in what Arterton and Gregorian were saying as I was so bewildered by these odd set pieces. During some scenes the set is beautifully detailed; I think either you go for a detailed set or you go for a more stylistic design. Made In Dagenham opts for a bit of both which ultimately leads to it lacking identity.
Arterton seems at home in her West End debut. Once she gets going, her performance is mostly strong. Arterton's lack of vocal technique shines through a couple of times; her solos are limited in range and each time one of Arterton's songs begins to build the ensemble conveniently join her on stage to help her out with the big finish. All the impressive notes have been dished out to other cast members, including Emma Lindars whose vocal talents are beyond exceptional! Each time she opened her mouth to sing I was blown away; I can't believe Lindars is given belty notes to sing but not a speaking part - she deserves a big, featured role!
For me the real star of the show is the incomparable Sophie-Louise Dann as politician Barbara Castle. Dann is the ultimate West End diva, owning every scene she's in and providing one of the evening's highlights with her rendition of 'In An Ideal World'. Sophie Stanton is sensational as outspoken factory worker Beryl whilst other stand out performances come from Isla Blair, Sophie Isaacs and Scott Garnam who pitches the comedy perfectly during the 'Cortina' number.
Although I have written a fair amount of criticism in this review, I must make it clear that I thoroughly enjoyed Made In Dagenham! In fact, when others were criticising it during the interval I immediately jumped to its defence. Essentially the good bits are really good, but the bad bits are really bad. I think the show would have hugely benefited from a Broadway style 'out-of-town' tryout as I don't think it feels quite ready for the theatre capital of the world, I was watching a work-in-progress. Made In Dagenham bursts with charm and character; it's just frustrating that something is missing. It’s powerful, but lacks the grit of Billy Elliot. There were times when I felt the story deserved better.
I am sure Made In Dagenham will enjoy a healthy West End run. It is tremendous fun and has huge appeal; it makes the perfect girls night out, date evening or possibly even family outing (for older kids). The final number, which is conveniently entitled 'Stand Up', leaves the audience no choice but to jump to their feet for the bows. The final ten minutes showcase feel good theatre at its very best. Made In Dagenham oozes with heart.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Made In Dagenham is booking at the Adelphi Theatre until Saturday 28th March 2015.
Visit www.madeindagenhamthemusical.com for further information and tickets.