Upon entering the Simpkins Lee auditorium, banners proclaiming ‘we want sex equality’ set a political agenda, showing that this production doesn’t beat about the bush in tackling Made in Dagenham’s subject matter: the gender wage gap. A domestic scene replete with period kitchenware gives a heritage feel, and the sound of live music from behind a curtain promises an exciting musical evening. The play opens in this domestic setting, where a woman wakes her husband up in bed, but this soon changes as the production contrasts domestic and working life, exploring the real lives of employees working on production lines.
This musical is based on real events, centred around the lives of the women behind the Ford machinists strike of 1968, and this student production certainly succeeds in emphasising the humour of the script even if it deals with serious issues. Traditional gender roles are highlighted: the men work in a Ford factory in Dagenham and the women work in a sewing factory, the performers acting in their gender groups. The humour is risqué from the start; for instance, we see the women discussing their sex lives at work – but the production is also brave in its serious moments, for example when a female character is a victim of domestic violence and the female chorus all brand him a ‘bastard.’
The lighting is key in transforming the Simpkins Lee, cleverly evoking a factory scene. The projection of a Ford symbol on the back wall symbolises the dominance of the industry in the play. Scenes with the Prime Minister (Joe Peden) highlight gender equality as a national issue, depicting negotiations with union leaders, and class differences are also highlighted – the brutality of the system is shown when a factory manager mentions how many men he may have to lay off from the production line.
This production is equally affecting in its powerful group performances and its subtler moments, for example a touching duet when a couple get back together after separating. The quality of the singing is excellent, and the show feels fresh and exciting. Ultimately this a cleverly staged production featuring impressive performances from the entire cast.