I was invited to the dress rehearsal of the stage musical ‘Made in Dagenham’ at the Lichfield Garrick by the production team from the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre group on Monday night – the production starts on Tuesday 28 March and runs until Saturday 1 April (Saturday includes a matinee at 2pm).
A few weeks ago it was International Womens’ Day and there is no better way to celebrate that by seeing this stirring and feisty story of female workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant in the late 1960’s striving, and succeeding, for equal pay with their male counterparts.
It’s fun, fast-paced, feel-good, flamboyant, and fabulous!
The performance is based upon the 2010 film of the same name, starring Gemma Arterton in the lead role of Rita and reflects real-life events at the American motor group Ford’s plant at Dagenham, Essex.
The musical tells the story of Rita O’Grady, played with passion and empathy by Charlotte Middleton, and her fellow female co-workers, and their battle with the company and, at times, the union officials for the right to equal pay with their male counterparts.
It’s a mix of ‘ups and downs’ as Rita risks everything – her home, her friends, her marriage to husband Eddie and, most importantly, her two children.
She has to battle with male chauvinism, the tragic illness of a close work colleague, no money to pay the household bills, buffoon-ish Prime Minister Harold Wilson, prickly Secretary of State Barbara Castle and, worse of all, the oily American MD of Ford, Robert Tooley – a sneering, boastful, bullying performance by Pete Beck which does make your flesh creep especially when he ‘cuddles up’ to Rita.
But Rita wins the day and at the TUC conference makes an impassioned speech which wins over everyone and earns her and her female colleagues the right to equal pay with the men – it proved to be a landmark case in real life.
This is the same theatre group that put on Hairspray at the Garrick last year and they put their usual ‘stamp’ of enthusiasm, verve and sheer enjoyment into the performance.
The cast is well led by Charlotte and Patrick Jervis as the emotionally confused husband Eddie and excellent support from the entire cast including its youngest members, brother-and-sister Lewis and Kirsten McLaren as the O’Grady children. Vickie Beck and James Pugh as Wilson and Castle spark off each other well and provide some lovely asides and facial contortions!
The dialogue is snappy and fast paced with lots of late 1960s references – strikes, Wimpey hamburgers, Berni Inns and Wilson’s famous Gannex raincoats all feature and the gags come thick and fast, you have to listen carefully to catch them all! The language is, at times, littered with gutsy shop-floor ‘compliments’ but it is all in keeping with the work-place location and authentic.
Thera are some great stage routines with clever scenery changes that include Big Ben, Essex social clubs and a typing pool office – and you also get dodgem cars, a classic 1960’s Cortina and a dead pigeon on stage!
All in all a great night’s entertainment based on a true British story of equality and common sense triumphing over adversity – the final rousing scene as Rita secures victory for the girls is ‘Stand Up’ – and I guarantee you’ll be standing up at the end to cheer them on!
Performances run from Tuesday 28 March to Saturday 1 April, there is a matinee and evening performance on Saturday 1 April. Tickets for performances can be purchased at the Lichfield Garrick Box Office in person (check website for opening times) at:
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