Monday, 10 November 2014

Theatre review: Made in Dagenham



For the past six months it has been very quiet in terms of big, exciting new shows moving into the West End, but with autumn comes a change of wind to the theatre capital of the UK with many new musicals and high-profile plays opening in short succession. For the longest of time I was most excited for the opening of British-born Made in Dagenham, starring none other than Gemma Arterton.

Mostly all Brits will be familiar with the sewing machinists strike at Ford in the 1960s, in which women employees demanded equal pay. Several weeks into the dispute the government got involved and the strike at one company eventually led to equal pay across the UK. It was a landmark case in labour history and in a day and age where gender inequality is still present, it's as topical as ever.

Adding in song and dance numbers to make the otherwise heavy subject matter a little more entertaining certainly shouldn't do it any harm and instead make it appeal to the wider masses. Add in a star attraction in the form of well-known movie actress Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, St. Trinians), a book by Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain), music by David Arnold (Sherlock, Little Britain) and lyrics by Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera) and the musical sounds like a winner on paper.


(c) Alex James

It is disappointing then that after all the excitement I felt in the lead-up to the opening of Made in Dagenham in London, the end result didn't manage to live up to the hype - or get even close to what you'd expect from a British-born musical with a heavyweight creative team behind it. A combination of a book riddled with poorly thought-through jokes, a for the most part unmemorable score and unnecessarily superficial characters, made for a simplistic fare that did not capture the empowerment of women the story should be focused on.

The show, which is based on the 2010 movie of the same name, had a clever marketing technique by releases several of the songs online before it had even played one preview. I had been listening to the cheerful, hummable melodies non-stop for days, getting more excited for the opening with each passing tune. But while these contagious songs added to the hype leading up to the opening, it also gave me a wrong perception on what the music in the show would be like.

The three songs I'd been listening to so devotedly (Made in Dagenham, Everybody Out and The Letter) unfortunately sounded better on the pre-recorded versions that they did live at the Adelphi Theatre. Furthermore, none of the performances came with big, showstopping choreography or impressive set changes, save the opener of the second act which provided an all-American glitter and glamour affair which certainly made its mark but perhaps wasn't quite suited to the otherwise very British show.


(c) Alex James

It wasn't all bad however. Arterton was excellent as main character Rita and she was a surprisingly good singer (though despite her best efforts still often outshone by the musical theatre-experienced ensemble); the pivotal union meeting was well-acted all around; Everybody Out was a catchy and memorable pre-interval affair; the previously mentioned performance of The Letter by Adrian der Gregorian provided a rare moment of goosebumps in an otherwise rather superficial first act; and Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down did the same for the second half.

There were some excellent elements to the show, which proves that there is a lot of potential there. It's such a shame then that after having watched it the negatives are so aggravating that they become more memorable than the moments of brilliance that shine through every now again. In particular because British shows haven't done very well on the West End in recent years (Viva Forever, Stephen Ward, From Here to Eternity, I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical) and I was really rooting for another roaring success such as Matilda the Musical.

Made in Dagenham is not the salvation for British musicals many, myself included, hoped it to be but if the book is tightened by taking out the more cringe-worthy jokes and character behaviours, and more impressive choreography is added to the bigger group numbers, the otherwise strong performances and interesting story of gender equality give this musical the potential to become a popular girls night out attraction along the likes of Mama Mia and Jersey Boys.


(c) Alex James




Made in Dagenham is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently taking bookings until 28 March 2015, you can buy tickets here.

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