Made in Dagenham The Musical, Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, The Capitol, Horsham, April 4-8, 2017
It was about this time last year when HAODS presented The Pajama Game.
The show was a lively and enjoyable musical about disgruntled factory workers who take industrial action to get a well-deserved pay-rise.
So I was a little surprised when HAODS announced that this year’s April musical would be Made in Dagenham.
On the surface it’s quite similar to The Pajama Game – a collection of bubbly characters who work at a factory go on strike for more money.
And like HAODS’ 2016 show there are placards, colourful costumes and plenty of upbeat songs.
But that’s where the similarities end really.
Based on the real-life Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968, Made in Dagenham The Musical has a serious message underneath all the fun, one of equality between the sexes.
After all, the event had a real impact. It lead to the Equal Pay Act 1970, which stated that men and women had to be paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work.
With a little artistic license (I’m sure the real workers didn’t spontaneously break into well choreographed song-and-dance numbers) the story revolves around working mum Rita O’Grady who learns that her sewing team at the factory is going to be demoted to an unskilled pay grade.
Encouraged by her friends, especially the older employee Connie, Rita tells the management that the women want to be paid the same as the men or they’re walking out.
The strike fills the ladies with confidence at first but times get tough and tensions grow between Rita and her husband Eddie.
HAODS’ latest is a high-energy, uplifting piece of musical theatre with bittersweet moments and a sense of gritty realism underneath all the 1960s sheen.
It’s full of memorable songs like the catchy ‘Pay Day’, the sombre ‘Same Old Story’ and the rousing ‘Stand Up’. Brian D Steel and the band are on top form.
Props and costumes are up to HAODS’ usual high standards too with an eye-catching, shining frame of a Cortina being an obvious highlight during one number.
Made in Dagenham is also a refreshingly English choice for HAODS after their recent string of American shows like Annie.
Rita, given a sense of confidence and sensitivity by Becky Munden, is a particularly relatable heroine. She’s not a radical feminist or a superhero, she’s just a regular British mum doing something extraordinary by simply standing up for what’s right.
Eddie, played with a rough charm by Jason Lines, is a sympathetic figure too. Initially brash and funny, his self-belief and happiness take a hit when Rita’s quest leaves him to deal with the kids solo.
On the lighter side, Beryl (Rachel Farrant) is that sweary woman we all know and can’t help but laugh along with, while Clare (Amy Blaskett) is that slightly ditzy character who never seems to fully understand what’s going on around her.
As always, this HAODS show is full of great supporting performances.
There’s Kev Summers as hard-nosed businessman Mr Hopkins, Alison Shapley as his assertive wife, Lisa Falkner as the level-headed Barbara Castle and Chris Dale as a rather wacky Harold Wilson.
Tess Kennedy gets the meatiest role as Connie, a once-idealistic woman who has been repeatedly disappointed by apathetic higher-ups and an indifferent world.
She probably gets the warmest response from the audience.
In complete contrast to Connie is company executive Mr Tooley (Chris Hampton), whose goal is to break the strike and crush the rebellion.
An arrogant, rich American who endlessly asserts his sense of superiority is a rather cartoonish villain (and a pretty unfair stereotype) but he’s fun to watch (and boo).
His song ‘This is America’ – complete with stars, stripes and sunglasses – is USA to the max. The guitar solo doesn’t quite work (or it just didn’t go as planned when I saw the show) but the number still gets a big round of applause.
Like Rita and her colleagues the HAODS cast are hard workers and strive to present musicals as they’re meant to be performed.
This Made in Dagenham is very professional, but this professionalism does, at times, reveal the show’s built-in flaws.
The tone, for example, is hard to pin down, veering from comedy to tragedy and then from serious drama to laugh-out-loud silliness.
And it could be argued that either a purely sincere tone or a purely lighthearted tone would make the show feel smoother, instead of a mixture of both.
But, that said, the mix of tones definitely isn’t boring and this show offers a real roller coaster of emotions.
It’s up for debate.
Regardless of all that though, Made in Dagenham is mostly just enjoyable and maybe that’s the point.
It feels like a kind of celebration, a party for the real people who endured tough times to create a better future.
To find out more about HAODS visit www.haods.co.uk.
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