The rather tiresome but quite successful fashion for creating musicals based on movies has settled down this year. Instead we have seen Broadway transfers (Urinetown, The Scottsboro Boys and Forbidden Broadway), some revivals (Evita and Miss Saigon) and shorter runs including the Duchess Theatre’s The Play that Goes Wrong. The trend definitely seems to have lost its mum in the supermarket and wandered off, but with Jerry Mitchell’s smash hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels taking the city by storm, it was inevitable that another would come along and ruin everything. Thanks a lot Made in Dagenham. Thanks a lot. Not that the Adelphi’s new musical is in any way bad – it’s not. In fact it’s rather good. It’s just that I was so getting used to something different. Oh well.
Based on real-life events, in which a group of feisty women go on strike for pay equal to their male counterparts in 1960s Dagenham, a film adaptation was released only four years ago. It saw Sally Hawkins take the role of strong Rita O’Grady, a woman torn between dedicating her life to family or essentially changing the world. Stage and screen actress Gemma Arterton tackles Rita in Rupert Goold’s feel-good musical and does so with comical ease. Her vocals aren’t perfect but she never claims to be Beyoncé (now Ms Knowles tackling an Essex accent would be quite awesome) and I’m certain that is not why she was hired. Arterton maintains a comfortable and confident approach to the role and seems brilliantly content in swearing whenever required to, which is, once the show gets going, quite often. Her presence is not felt quite as much early on; instead Sophie Stanton’s Beryl dominates, swearing an awful lot too (she’s probably one of the highlights of a very strong cast), but Rita is a slow-burner with Arterton ultimately leading an inspiring story to its heart-warming but predictable finale.
Bunny Christie’s set design is initially a bit worrying. If IKEA sold flat-packed homes then the opening scene of Made in Dagenham would illustrate it to amateur perfection. The letters spelling out the show’s title – complete with cheesy theme tune – almost had me coughing up my red wine, but the industrial feel running throughout the show works on the whole, whilst perhaps being a little cold for such a tonally light-hearted production.
Richard Bean and Richard Thomas’s book and lyrics offer some catchy tunes. ‘Everybody Out’ terrifically concludes Act I and is full of endless possibilities that command the audience to leave their seats feeling energised; likewise, ‘Stand Up’ actually led a couple of older spectators to raise their hands in a moment of what I perceived as real understanding, perhaps because they knew the women who actually achieved this success back in the 1960s or just felt overwhelmed. It was quite something to witness, either way.
Made in Dagenham’s humour occasionally goes too far. Mark Hadfield’s prime minister Harold Wilson babbles away as if he is the only one in the room and is not versatile enough to appeal to a large enough audience. Similarly, Scott Garnham’s Buddy Cortina just seems unnecessary, especially in his overly long and mystifying rendition of ‘This is America’. Unfortunately this just feels like a filler, as though the production on the whole is not polished enough.
Sophie-Louise Dann’s Barbara Castle is a hoot and a half, as is Naomi Frederick’s Lisa Hopkins, the bored and very bourgeois housewife with a double-first from Cambridge. Emma Lindars’s spine tingling vocals are definitely not used enough, but when they are they allow those that speak rather than sing (most of the cast) to be forgiven.
A tremendous cast saves this from being yet another average new musical, with the songs mostly forgettable and some scenes plain awful. Yet the story is extremely inspiring and Goold gives this to his audience with much love and care.
Made in Dagenham is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently booking until March 2015. For more information and tickets, see the Made In Dagenham website.
Photo by Manuel-Harlan.