Let’s face it: it’s 5th week. It’s the middle of February. Every morning you open your curtains to a world in hues of grey. So why not treat yourself to an evening at the theatre? That seems to be what the packed auditorium at the Oxford Playhouse was thinking as they took their seats for Made in Dagenham, hoping that it would provide some escapism from the mid-term blues. And the audience’s wish was certainly fulfilled. Made in Dagenham is an explosion of colourful enthusiasm with an encouraging message, an upbeat cast, and musical numbers you’ll be humming all the way home.
This is a production to remind every feminist and social activist that they stand on the shoulders of giants. In Ford’s manufacturing plant in Dagenham, the machinists who make the seats have just been told that they have been downgraded, and now categorised as “unskilled labour”. But they’re having none of it. Rita O’Grady (Maddy Page) becomes the figurehead for the group as they decide to assert their rights, and decide that they might as well campaign for equal pay while they’re at it. The true story behind Made in Dagenham is the reason women are legally paid equally to men for equal work as instituted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which followed two years behind the Dagenham Women’s Strike.
Maddy Page, in the leading role, is excellent. She masters the mixture of emotions behind a working mother who doesn’t do politics, but is changing the law anyway. The production could not thrive without her performance being as on-point as it is. The stand out performers, however, were the politicians: David Garrick had superb comic timing as the prime minister Harold Wilson, and Ella Tournes united attitude with class as Barbara Castle, minister for employment. Their scenes together were supremely entertaining, and they deserved the cheer they got from the audience at the curtain call.
That being said, you wouldn’t call this production slick. In places the choreography was pure genius, but in others it became repetitive and lacklustre as the ensemble went through the motions. There were some technical teething problems we can hope will be sorted in future shows: intermittent microphone issues meant that several important lines were lost, and balancing errors sometimes forced singers to fight to be heard above the orchestra. The whole thing would have benefitted from a few more sessions rehearsing all of the elements together, to iron out timing issues between ensemble and orchestra, work on lighting cues, and drill the chorus on their dance moves.
Hopefully you already have your ticket for Made in Dagenham. If not, I encourage you to invest in an evening of multi-coloured entertainment which will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.