Dagenham Makes It Big At The Adelphi

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 115 months ago

Last Updated 06 November 2014

Dagenham Makes It Big At The Adelphi ★★★★☆ 4

Photo: Manual Harlan

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

"Made in Dagenham, Made in Dagenham, now we're equal paid in Dagenham" hums the Essex-accented earworm that's been going round our head since we caught this juggernaut of a show.

Based on the 2010 film of the same name, MiD tells the story of a group of female sewing machinists at Ford's Dagenham factory in the sixties, who go on strike in a bid to get their work identified as skilled labour. Their fight, led by working class mother Rita O'Grady (Gemma Arterton), quickly escalates to demands for pay equal to their male co-workers — something which still sadly resonates nearly 50 years later.

Made in Dagenham mocks itself — and Dagenham — outrageously from the start ("Dagenham, Dagenham, so good they named it once" croons Rita's husband Eddie in the opening number), giving plenty of warning that a functioning, and at times self-deprecating, sense of humour is required to navigate the coming two hours. A family show it is not, and the prudish would do well to avoid it, as the gags get dirty as we go deeper into the show.

No expense is spared on the set, designed to be the Ford factory — a constant production line of car parts swinging overhead. Different scenes have a similar set-up, with sewing machines drifting past on a conveyor belt. Far from being distracting, this creates a sense of industry.

The show is so captivating that the only time we found ourselves making any comparison to the 2010 film was noting that the camaraderie between the women is much stronger on stage. Despite Gemma Arterton taking on the lead role of Rita O'Grady, Sophie Stanton confidently assumes the part of ringleader as bolshy Beryl. Her constant stream of hilarious one liners and sexual innuendos — enough to blow Michael Caine's bloody doors off — make the first act.

Mark Hadfield's Harold Wilson is amusing too, but through no fault of the actor's own, cheapens the show with slapstick-style comedy, at times bordering into Carry On territory.

The vocals may not be spot on 100% of the time, but what they lack in accuracy, they more than make up for in gusto. Despite having a background in film rather than musical theatre, former-Bond girl Gemma Arterton slips very comfortably into the role. If it's outstanding vocals you're after, union rep Connie (Isla Blair) is your best bet. Other actors wobble on a musical tightrope as they try to juggle decent singing AND a convincing Dagenham drawl.

The second act begins to feel lengthy, before coming to an abrupt end at the TCU conference. Only the generic convention of the happy ending musical leads the audience to infer that the strike was a success: a clever way of throwing open the question of whether gender equality has yet been achieved, perhaps?

Made in Dagenham is not by any means the first show to deal with the issue of strikes — Billy Elliot,  Strike and Matchgirls to name a few, have got there first — but this show is by far the most upbeat, and seeing as austerity and gender inequality are the focus, the audience is left feeling quite chipper. It would have been so easy for the show to assume the shape of one long lecture on feminism, with a few gratuitous songs thrown in, but thankfully, MiD widely sidesteps this.

Describing MiD as a musical doesn't quite do it justice. Yes it had the jazzy show songs of an upbeat musical, but it's a razor sharp comedy and political drama rolled into one punchy package — bursting into song at every opportunity in that glorious way musicals do.

Made in Dagenham is on at the Adelphi Theatre, Strand London WC2, currently booking until March. Tickets are £69.50-£15 and you can book your in advance online. We saw this show on a complimentary press ticket.